Time and time again we’ve been warned of the health risks involved with consuming too much sugar.
Research has linked diets high in sugar with obesity, diabetes, and heart disease and for years the American Heart Association (AHA) has recommended that men limit their sugar intake to about 37.5 grams (nine teaspoons) per day and women to about 25 grams (six teaspoons) per day.
Recently, though, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced its own set of guidelines that “strongly” recommends limiting sugar consumption to less than 10 percent of your total energy intake.
Using a 2,000-calorie diet as an example, this would mean 200 calories, or 50 grams, could from sugar (one gram of carbohydrates is equal to four calories).
Of course, this recommendation is higher than what the AHA suggests, but in its report, WHO went even further by “conditionally” recommending limiting sugar consumption to less than 5 percent of your total energy intake, which is more in line with the AHA’s 25-gram recommendation for women.
In a statement about the new guidelines, Francesco Branca, director of the WHO's Department of Nutrition for Health and Development, said, "We have solid evidence that keeping intake of free sugars to less than 10 percent of total energy intake reduces the risk of [being] overweight, obesity, and tooth decay."
According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, the average American consumes about 88 grams of sugar a day.
The WHO’s said that this is of “increasing concern" because excessive consumption of free sugars, especially those consumed “in the form of sugar-sweetened beverages,” may lead a person to eat less “nutritionally adequate” foods, which could lead to weight gain and an increased risk for noncommunicable diseases.
“Free sugars include monosaccharides and disaccharides added to foods and beverages by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates,” the WHO said.
The organizations recommendations don’t apply to the natural sugars found in foods like fresh fruit, milk, and vegetables.
Ultimately, while the organization pointed out that its recommendation to limit sugar intake to less than 5 percent of total energy intake is based on “very low quality evidence,” a large body of research still supports the health benefits associated with eating less sugar.
As Washington Post reporter Brady Dennis points out, the WHO’s new guideline are on par with the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee's recent report, which also suggested that sugar consumption should be kept below 10 percent of total energy intake.
He quoted the report which said, “Strong and consistent evidence shows that intake of added sugars from food and/or sugar sweetened beverages are associated with excess body weight in children and adults,"
So while science hasn’t yet found a definitive upper limit for optimal health, it’s still clear that more people could improve their health and overall well-being by paying closer attention to the foods they eat and making sure to keep their sugar intake to a minimum.