The fight against sugar consumption

04.07.14 |

Much of the sugars consumed today are ‘hidden’ in processed foods that are not usually seen as sweets

Early this month, the World Health Organization (WHO), announced that it would be drafting new guidelines on sugar consumption, a change that shortly followed the FDA announcement of changes to nutrition labels aiming to help consumers better understand exactly what they are eating and choose a healthy option.

In 2002, WHO suggested that sugars should account for 10 percent of our total daily energy intake. That suggestion remains in the latest draft of their guidelines, but they go on to suggest that reducing that intake to 5 percent, roughly 25 grams or 6 teaspoons, has additional health benefits.

In their release, WHO points out that “much of the sugars consumed today are ‘hidden’ in processed foods that are not usually seen as sweets. For example, 1 tablespoon of ketchup contains around 4 grams (around 1 teaspoon) of sugars. A single can of sugar-sweetened soda contains up to 40 grams (around 10 teaspoons) of sugar.”

If you do the math, you’ll find that the new WHO daily sugar intake recommendation is less than what is found in one—just one—average can of soda.

Why are major health organizations targeting sugar consumption? Let’s start by looking at how much sugar we consume. For example, according to the USDA, the amount of sugar that Americans consume increased by 39 percent between 1950 and 2000. An infographic from Forbes, which pulls data from a variety of studies, highlights that Americans currently consume an average of three pounds of sugar per week.

Per week! That’s about 1,185 grams more than the new WHO recommendation!

Sugar is a big target for health professionals because of its link to a variety of health complications. In their announcement of new sugar guidelines, WHO specifically mentions a desire to “reduce public health problems like obesity and dental caries (commonly referred to as tooth decay).”

Sugar and sugary substances actually creates direct inflammatory reactions which I outline in detail in Dr.A’s Habits of Health. And obesity is a one-word code for a large number of potential health problems. Obesity has been linked to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and even depression, to name a few. Sugar may not be the direct cause of all obesity cases in the United States, but the numbers that we just reviewed suggest that it plays a role in a great many of them.

Despite your body needing only the equivalent of one teaspoon of sugar to operate your entire metabolism, sugar has become a major factor in American diets because sugar makes food taste good, and food companies want to produce food that sells. Sugar, and its substitute, high-fructose corn syrup (which is also a part of the new WHO recommendation), make food more appealing and more profitable while also making it cheaper to produce.

This is a victory from a business perspective, but it has contributed to what has become a global health crisis. Sugar, while unhealthy in large volumes, can at least be metabolized by any cell in the body. High-fructose corn syrup, the cheaper sugar substitute, can only be processed by your liver and has been found to be addictive. You can’t help but crave it, and unlike sugar, it keeps your body from producing key hormones that regulate your energy cycle and inhibit hunger, preventing your body from sensing when it’s full.

This insidious onslaught continues until one day you are shocked to discover that you are prediabetic, or worse, already have diabetes or liver disease.

The FDA and WHO have seen enough people fall into this trap that they are taking action to help fight this trend. Unfortunately, guidelines and recommendations can only do so much. We need to take our health into our own hands and make a daily effort to not only choose optimal health for ourselves but to encourage those around us to learn more about what they eat and to make the choice to live the Habits of the Health.