Added Sugar Placing a Cap on Americans’ Consumption

Health experts have been nudging Americans to kick the sugar habit for years. Now it’s official: The Food and Drug Administration is recommending a daily cap on added sugar for the first time.

Simple Fact

First, the goal is for Americans to limit added sugar to no more than 10 percent of daily calories. For someone older than 3, that means eating no more than 12.5 teaspoons, or 50 grams, of it a day.

That’s about the same amount of sugar found in a can of Coke, giving up sugary soft drinks will not be enough to meet the recommendations. Caloric sweeteners like sugar, honey, and high-fructose corn syrup are found in obvious places like sodas, cookies, and candy.  They are also lurking in foods with health appeal, like low-fat yogurt, granola, and whole grain bread.

“There is a lot of hidden sugar in our food supply, and it’s not just in sweets,” said Dr. Frank Hu, a member of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee and a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard.

Current Trend

Nutrition labels on food packaging reveal only the total amount of sugar in a product. The F.D.A. has said it wants to change the labels to help consumers distinguish between the amount of naturally occurring sugar and the amount of added sugar.

“When you see a yogurt with pictures of blueberries and strawberries on the label — right now there could be a teeny tiny amount of real fruit in there and an awful lot of added sugar, or lots of fruit and dairy and little added sugar. The consumer cannot distinguish between the two,” said Susan Mayne, the director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at the F.D.A.

Critics from the food industry have balked at the sugar cap. They believe the new label requirements, will only confuse shoppers. A study published in The Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in June found that people overestimated the amount of sugar in products that listed “added sugars,” and were less likely to buy them.

“Metabolically speaking, our bodies don’t differentiate between added and natural sugars,” said Kris Solid. Who are a dietitian, one of the study’s authors, and director of nutrients communications for the International Food Information Council? A little fact to take note of, this committee also receives funding from food and beverage companies including Coca-Cola and PepsiCo.


They agree that knowing total calories is important, but note that added sugars represent empty calories, devoid of nutrients. While milk and fruit contain natural sugars, they are nutrient-dense foods that provide calcium, protein, vitamins or dietary fiber.

The World Health Organization endorses a 10 percent cap on sugars.  Excluding those in fresh fruits, vegetables, and milk, and urges people to aim even lower, limiting sugars to 5 percent of caloric intake to derive greater health benefits.

As a result, the American Heart Association also recommends stricter sugar limits, saying women should consume only about 100 calories a day in added sugars. Men no more than 150 calories, or nine teaspoons. The F.D.A. is recommending that children 1 to 3 should not consume more than 25 grams of sugar a day.

Nearly half of the added sugar consumed in the United States comes from sweetened drinks

Most Importantly, much of it in soft drinks, but also in sweetened tea and coffee, according to analyses from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys.

Next, the 10 percent cap was derived from modeling different kinds of healthy diet patterns. How many discretionary calories are left over for sugar after an individual gets the nutrients he or she needs, said Dr. Susan Krebs-Smith, the chief of the risk factors assessment branch at the National Cancer Institute.


She compared the new sugar recommendations to living on a budget. “If we were advising the public on how to spend their money,” she said, “we wouldn’t have trouble telling them to focus on spending on essentials like food, shelter, and clothing.”

Sugar makes up about 13.5 percent of Americans’ caloric intake

Most Importantly, public health experts think the goal of 10 percent is attainable. Younger people, blacks and the poor tend to consume higher amounts of sugar and would need to make deeper cuts to reach the goal.

After that, children and teenagers overall get 16 percent of their calories from sugar. This figure drops to 14 percent of calories for adults aged 20 to 39. Then goes down even further as people age, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Further, guidelines have been encouraging people to cut back on sugar for decades. The focus is on preventing weight gain. New research suggests a high-sugar diet may have metabolic effects. These are separate from weight gain, that promotes chronic disease by causing inflammation.

Most recently

A large study led by Dr. Hu reported last year states that adults who had the highest intake of sugar — were nearly three times more likely to die of heart disease.

Several recent randomized clinical trials have shown that getting children to cut back on sugar-sweetened beverages alone can slow weight gain and fat accumulation. The fact is,  the brain doesn’t register liquid calories the same way it registers calories in food. “Even after consuming 200 or 300 calories from soda,” Dr. Hu said, “you don’t feel satisfied, or full.”

Even enthusiastic supporters of the new rules worry that a cap on sugar could boomerang. Sugar is used to make reduced-fat dairy and high-fiber grains more palatable. How about people eliminated sugar from their diet?

Early on, In the 1970s, doctors and nutrition experts began advocating low-fat diets for heart health. Similarly, this leads to low-fat and fat-free products that were high in sugar. Low-carb diets are a fad. Food makers are responding to the fad with low-carb pasta and low-carb brownies. These substitutes are loaded with fat and calories.

“We call this the unanticipated consequences,” said Alice H. Lichtenstein, a professor of nutrition science at Tufts University who serves on the dietary guidelines committee. He says, “Every time we focus on just one component of the diet, we get in these crazy situations.”

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