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New WHO guideline calls for reducing intake of free sugars in the diet

Posted:  Friday, March 13, 2015

Free sugars go by different names such as glucose, fructose, sucrose and table sugar. These sugars are naturally present in honey, syrups and fruit juices and also added to food and drink by the food industry. However, according to a new World Health Organization (WHO) guideline, adults and children must reduce their daily free sugar intake to less than 10% of their total energy intake.

The new guideline is based on analysis of the latest scientific evidence. The evidence, rated as strong by the WHO, revealed that adults who consume lower amounts of free sugars have lower body weight than those consuming higher amounts. Also, higher intake of free sugars (>10% of total energy intake) in children was associated with increased risk of obesity and tooth decay.

The report found that free sugars are often concealed in processed foods which are not often considered as sweets. For example, 1 tablespoon of ketchup contains around 4 g of free sugars, while a can of soft drink contains up to 40 g of free sugars. The guideline does not refer to naturally occurring sugars present in fresh fruits, vegetables and milk as there is no reported association between adverse effects and the consumption of these sugars.

The WHO report found variations in the consumption of free sugars between countries and also urban and rural areas within a country.

The WHO has issued a conditional recommendation that the free sugar intake should be further reduced to less than 5% of the total energy intake.

"We have solid evidence that keeping intake of free sugars to less than 10% of total energy intake reduces the risk of overweight, obesity and tooth decay," said Dr. Francesco Branca, director of WHO's Department of Nutrition for Health and Development. He further added, “Making policy changes to support this will be key if countries are to live up to their commitments to reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases.”

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