It sounds like a simple enough challenge, doesn’t it? You might be thinking that you don’t add sugar to your foods or that you don’t use much sugar in your coffee. But FoodFacts.com wants you to think really carefully about that question, because it certainly isn’t as simple as it might appear.
In a new guideline on sugar consumption, the World Health Organization reiterates its 2002 recommendation that no more than 10% of daily calories come in the form of sugar. But this time around, the WHO adds that people would get additional benefits if they can keep their sugar consumption below 5% of daily calories.
That’s likely to be a tall order. For an adult with a normal body mass index, 5% of daily calories works out to about 25 grams of sugar, or six teaspoons, the WHO says.
In an announcement on its website, the WHO says it is offering new guidance on sugar consumption in response to research documenting its deleterious effects: “There is increasing concern that consumption of free sugars, particularly in the form of sugar-sweetened beverages, may result in both reduced intake of foods containing more nutritionally adequate calories and an increase in total caloric intake, leading to an unhealthy diet, weight gain and increased risk of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs).”
Worries about cavities and other dental problems played a role too, WHO says: “Dental diseases are the most prevalent NCDs globally and … continue to cause pain, anxiety, functional limitation and social handicap through tooth loss, for large numbers of people worldwide.”
A study published last month in JAMA Internal Medicine reported that a whopping 71.4% of American adults get more than 10% of their calories from sugar. Even worse, the study linked higher levels of sugar consumption with an increased risk of death due to cardiovascular disease.
Added sugars go by many names when they are listed on nutrition labels of processed foods. Some of their aliases include high fructose corn syrup, anhydrous dextrose, maltose, evaporated cane juice and fruit juice concentrates.
So let’s take a FoodFacts.com look at three meals on a busy day for a U.S. consumer who is not eating food prepared at home and is somewhat careful about the foods he or she is choosing. Perhaps there was a bowl of Quaker Instant Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal for breakfast before running to work, then lunch at Panera Bread with a co-worker for the Low-Fat Garden Vegetable Soup with Pesto and a soft roll, then two slices of a Kashi Margherita Pizza for a quick dinner before the gym. We won’t even count snacks and beverages. At the end of the day, those three meals cost that consumer 7 and a half teaspoons of sugar. Add a few snacks and drinks into the mix and we’re more than one and a half teaspoons over the World Health Organization recommendation.
The scenario we just detailed is for someone making “better” choices. We can only imagine the teaspoon count for someone who isn’t. It’s eye-opening to realize that a small chocolate shake at McDonald’s contains 15 teaspoons of sugar … or that drinking two cans of regular coke adds 19 teaspoons of sugar to your daily intake.
It’s time for everyone in America to start taking added sugar seriously and counting up those grams on a daily basis. How much sugar are you really eating every day?