Wednesday, 4 June 2014

WHO’s being smart about Sugar?

Finally, after years of research and an increasing public awareness about the effects of sugar on health, the World Health Organization is looking to further reduce their ideal sugar intake recommendations. Ooh I’m getting tingles of joy at the thought. I love it when an independent body such as the WHO provides nutrition information without bias. It helps to counteract all the advertising from food manufacturers who would have you believe that poison was healthy if it sold their product.

On 5th March 2014 The WHO launched a public consultation on its draft guidelines on ‘free’ sugars. Whether or not governments and policy makers will use this information wisely or individuals will take heed is another question entirely. Whilst people like David Gillespie (author of ‘Sweet Poison’) and Sarah Wilson (author of the ‘I Quit Sugar’ books and blog) have been gaining popularity for their views on the detrimental effects of sugar, many people choose to ignore their message. Now with increasing support from The World Health Organization, it's going to be harder for people to hide their head in the sand. Yay!

The WHO is being very tentative in their changes, as they continue to recommend that sugar should make up less than 10% of total energy intake per day. No change there. They are now acknowledging though that less than 5% is the ideal.  However, because many people are already struggling with 10% they are keeping that as the more realistic goal, and adding the 5% objective in the hope that this will encourage movement in the downward direction. For an average adult this lower goal is equivalent to only 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day. For a young child who consumes half the calories of an adult, 5% is approximately 3 teaspoons of sugar per day. Unfortunately, most people would eat well above these amounts just in hidden sugar, without accounting for any obvious extra such as cake, biscuits or soft drinks.

The World Health Organization guidelines refer to sugars that are added to food by the manufacturer, the cook and the consumer or those naturally present in honey, fruit syrups and fruit concentrations. They mention foods such as cereal, sauces, fast food and sweetened yoghurt as examples of hidden sugars. It was also rightly pointed out that only one soft drink exceeds the 5% goal. In other words, reducing sugar consumption to this level wont happen by accident.  It requires education about how to read labels and cook without sugar, willingness to change ones eating habits and the motivation to follow through and stick to a new way of eating.

At the WHO press conference they even went so far as to say that sugar together with other risk factors might become the new tobacco in terms of public health action. Not only this, but they believe that there are some places in the world that are looking at the possibility of a sugar tax. Sounds like a brilliant suggestion to me. Bring it on!

May you be full of beans and devoid of sugar,


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