New Study Recommends Reduced Intake of Added Sugars

Wednesday, 02 September 2009

A new American Heart Association scientific statement provides specific guidance on limiting the consumption of added sugars and provides information about the relationship between excess sugar intake and metabolic abnormalities, adverse health conditions, and shortfalls in essential nutrients. The statement, published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, provides for the first time the association’s recommendations on specific levels and limits on the consumption of added sugars.

Added sugars are sugars and syrups added to foods during processing or preparation and sugars and syrups added at the table. High intake of added sugars, as opposed to naturally occurring sugars, is implicated in the rise in obesity. It’s also associated with increased risks for high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels, other risk factors for heart disease and stroke, and inflammation (a marker for heart disease), according to the statement’s lead author Rachel K. Johnson, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., associate provost and professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont in Burlington.

“Sugar has no nutritional value other than to provide calories,” Johnson said. “Consuming foods and beverages with excessive amounts of added sugars displaces more nutritious foods and beverages for many people.”

The statement says that most women should consume no more than 100 calories (about 25 grams) of added sugars per day. Most men should consume no more than 150 calories (about 37.5 grams) each day. That’s about six teaspoons of added sugar a day for women and nine for men.

In contrast, the statement cites a report from the 2001-04 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) that showed the average intake of added sugars for all Americans was 22.2 teaspoons per day (355 calories).

Soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages are the number one source of added sugars in Americans’ diet, according to the statement. “One 12-ounce can of regular soda contains about 130 calories and eight teaspoons of sugar,” Johnson said.

The American Heart Association recommends a dietary pattern that is rich in fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, high-fiber whole grains, lean meat, poultry and fish.

“This new statement expands on earlier recommendations and gives consumers more detailed guidance by recommending a specific upper limit on added-sugars intake,” Johnson said.

In addition, the statement recommends that no more than half of a person’s daily discretionary calorie allowance should come from added sugars.

Discretionary calories refer to the number of calories “left over” after a person eats the recommended types and amounts of foods to meet nutrient requirements, such as fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, high-fiber whole grains, lean meat, poultry, and fish. Added sugars, alcoholic beverages, and solid fats - including saturated fat and trans fat - are typically considered discretionary calories that are to be included after individual daily nutrient requirements are met.

“It is important to remember that people’s discretionary calorie ‘budgets’ can vary, depending on their activity level and energy needs,” Johnson said. “So, if you can’t live with the recommended limits on your added sugars, you’ll have to move more.”

For example, a moderately active 51-55 year-old woman who eats 1,800 calories per day and maintains her weight would have about 195 discretionary calories per day and only about 100 calories, or half that amount, should come from added sugars. In comparison, if that same woman, still maintaining her weight, was more physically active and burned 2,200 calories a day, she could consume 2,200 calories a day, and would have a larger discretionary ‘budget’ of about 290 calories. About half of that amount, or 145 calories, could come from added sugars.

To ensure proper nutrient intake in the diet and to limit excess calories, Johnson said people should be sure foods high in added sugars are not taking the place of foods with essential nutrients or increasing their total calorie intake.

She recommended that people use their added sugars “allotment” as a vehicle to enhance the flavor of otherwise nutrient-rich foods. For example, choosing a nutrient-rich dairy product, such as a flavored yogurt or a sugar-sweetened whole-grain breakfast cereal, would be a better choice than a nutrient-void candy.

Co-authors of the statement are: Lawrence J. Appel, M.D., M.P.H.; Michael Brands, Ph.D.; Barbara V. Howard, Ph.D.; Michael Lefevre, Ph.D.; Robert H. Lustig, M.D.; Frank Sacks, M.D.; Lyn M. Steffen, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D.; and Judith Wylie-Rosett, Ed.D., R.D.

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