Unsweetened: WHO Introduces New Sugar Guidelines

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Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sillyjilly/

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sillyjilly/

The World Health Organization wants your life to be half as sweet as it is now. On Wednesday, the organization announced it planned to revise its current intake guidelines for free sugars from less than 10 percent of daily caloric intake to less than 5 percent. Free sugars are sugars that have been added to foods and beverages through monosaccharides and disaccharides, as well as those found in nature, like honey.

In a standard 2,000-calorie daily diet, following the new guidelines would mean that 100 calories could come from sugar. There are four calories per gram of sugar, limiting a person’s sugar intake to approximately 25 grams. In a 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola, there are 39 grams of sugar. One serving of Kellogg’s Raisin Bran cereal has 18 grams of sugar.

In the draft guideline, WHO describes why a decrease is needed. Free sugars, especially when consumed with sugar-sweetened beverages, are believed to be contributing to an unhealthy diet, weight gain, an increase in noncommunicable diseases (e.g. heart disease, diabetes, etc.), and cause fewer healthy foods to be consumed. Dental health problems were singled out because they are the most common noncommunicable diseases in the world. Treating dental ailments is costly, accounting for 5 to 10 percent of an industrialized country’s health budget. In a lower-income country, the cost children’s dental health needs can eclipse the entire health budget.

By setting new standards, WHO hopes to control sugar’s detrimental side effects, namely weight gain and dental concerns. When asked at the press conference announcing the reduction, Director of the Department of Nutrition for Health and Development Francesco Branca explained how WHO settled on the 5 percent figure.

“We have analyzed the literature with regard to the main question, which was: Is a 10 percent limit good enough to improve health? And that answer was addressed by looking particularly at data on dental caries, which have indicated that the consumption of free sugars higher than 10 percent is conducive to a higher rate of dental caries,” Branca said. For a “full absence of full decay,” 5 percent was found to be the appropriate limit.

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