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WHO’s new sugar rules, reviewed

by Denis Faye - The Nutrition Nerd | March 7, 2014

AdamandEve2The World Health Organization came out with new guidelines for free sugar consumption. Sort of. From their website:

WHO’s current recommendation, from 2002, is that sugars should make up less than 10% of total energy intake per day. The new draft guideline also proposes that sugars should be less than 10% of total energy intake per day. It further suggests that a reduction to below 5% of total energy intake per day would have additional benefits.

Basically, they’re sticking to their old story and then adding that, if you feel like it, it might be a good idea to eat even less sugar, please. It’s a little passive for my taste, but a good suggestion nonetheless.

For the average adult, this works out to about 6 teaspoons or 25 grams of free sugar, or a little over half of a can of soda. Of course, this isn’t a license to drink half a Mountain Dew daily. Those teaspoons also include all the added sugars you’ll find in thousands of packaged goods, from dressings to sauces to cereals to peanut butter. At lest we forget the many free sugars that the holistic set love to masquerade as “natural” such as honey, molasses, agave syrup, and fruit juice. (I guess you didn’t find a weight-loss workaround by using agave syrup in your double organic free range chai latte. Bogus for you. Sorry.)

If you need something to stick on your fridge door, the official WHOville definition free sugars is “”all monosaccharides and disaccharides added to foods by the manufacturer, cook, or consumer, plus sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, and fruit juices.”

What’s missing from the definition of free sugars are the monosaccharides and disaccharides you find in fresh produce and whole grains. Sometimes, people mistakenly lump these sugars–especially the ones from fruit–in with evil carbs. There’s a huge difference. Thanks to God or evolution (depending on which text book you read), the sugar in fruit is elegantly balanced with fiber, water, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. In this context, sugars become beneficial in that they help transport all these awesome nutrients into your system.

In other words, while that apple gave Adam and Eve forbidden knowledge and got them kicked out of Eden, it didn’t give them type II diabetes. 

(Aside: I used the photo above because it appears Adam has a handlebar mustache, which is awesome. This year’s halloween costume search is officially over!)

And since we’re on the topic of evil, sometimes free sugars can be a necessary one, especially if you’re active. For example, if you’re an endurance athlete, you can blow through 25g of sugar pretty quickly in mid-activity feeding and a recovery snack. But here’s the trick: if you’re super active, your daily caloric needs go up. Therefore, your 5% sugar allotment goes up too. Provided the rest of your diet is clean, a little targeted sports nutrition shouldn’t hurt. In fact, it’ll help.

So don’t be afraid of your 5% sugar fix. If you need to it stay sane, that’s good. If you use it functionally, that’s better. But whatever you do, don’t let it get the best of you.

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One thought on “WHO’s new sugar rules, reviewed

  1. Kurt Thomas

    In the book Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss, he explains how the food giants trade these ingredients with one another to make the food taste good so people will by it. It’s astonishing how much sugar is in everyday foods. I started tracking my food 8 months ago to see how I panned out. I couldn’t believe what I saw.

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