Is Sugar the New Tobacco?


We have made a giant leap away from fat phobia and have firmly made sugar public enemy #1.

Or that’s how it seems.

Last week the FDA elevated the sugar issue by proposing to list “added sugars” on nutrition labels for the first time — while dropping the “calories from fat” declaration.  

Now the World Health Organization has escalated sugar concerns even more today by proposing that daily sugar intake should be just 5 percent of your total calories — half of what the agency previously recommended.

After a review of about 9,000 studies, WHO’s expert panel says dropping sugar intake to 5 percent of calories (or about 6 teaspoons of sugar or 25 grams per day) will help combat obesity. That includes sugars added to foods (such as sucrose or table sugar) and those naturally present in honey, syrups,  fruit juices and fruit concentrates, but not those occurring naturally in fruits.

The American Heart Association recommends limiting sugar intake to no more than 100 calories per day for women (about 6 teaspoons) and no more than 150 calories per day for men (9 teaspoons). 

Studies show that people who consume many foods and drinks with added sugars tend to consume more calories than people who don’t eat much of these foods, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Cutting back could help you maintain a healthy weight, and reduce risk for diabetes, heart disease, and other obesity-related health problems. Americans eat a lot more sugar than that: Our average sugar intake would have to drop by two-thirds to meet WHO’s suggested limit.

One of the loudest voices against sugar has been Dr. Robert Lustig, who seemed to get the “sugar is toxic” ball rolling with this viral video.

In recent years, there’s been all sorts of efforts to restrict sugar — proposing regulations similar to tobacco and alcohol.  Some people claim sugar is addicting, just like cocaine and heroin.

To me, I feel like we’re always looking to nail a victim.  We have to blame something.  Sure, if you drink a lot of sugary beverages and eat a ton of sweets — you’ll likely be consuming too many calories.  But I have a hard time believing that sugar is “toxic.”

I do think calling out “added sugars” on nutrition labels will help you be more mindful of the amount of sugar you’re eating.  But  I think we need to look at all the ways extra calories are making their way into our day.  Keeping treats a treat — and not an every meal occasion — will help.  Moderation, not elimination is my motto.

WHO’s new guidelines have been published online and the agency is inviting the public to comment via its website until the end of March.

image courtesy of stephanym.rodriguez1 on flickr

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