Newly-confirmed guidelines that recommend people cut their sugar intake in half are hard to meet and would not stop people from becoming obese, a leading nutritionist has said.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) released its final guidelines today, which state that although sugars should make up less than 10% of total energy intake per day for adults and children – which is already its advice – slashing this to below 5% “would provide additional health benefits”.
But Tom Sanders, professor emeritus of nutrition and dietetics at King’s College London, said that although the 10% target is easily achievable, halving this would be much tougher.
“There is currently no evidence supporting a recommended intake lower than 10% for obesity prevention, either from observational studies or randomised control trials,” he said.
“In the UK average intakes of free sugars are about 11-12% of the energy in adults but higher in teenagers where they are closer to 18% of the energy.
“The target of 10% can easily met be avoiding sugar sweetened beverages and getting fluid intakes preferably from water or sugar-free beverages.”
But he added that the recommendation of lowering it to 5% is “much harder to meet because it would involve not eating cakes, biscuits, confectionery and all sugar sweetened beverages including fruit juice”.
The WHO’s limits on intake of sugars apply to all monosaccharides (such as glucose, fructose) and disaccharides (such as sucrose or table sugar).
These are added to food by the manufacturer, the cook or the consumer, and are also sugars that are naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit concentrates.
The guidelines follow several studies on the impact of sugar on obesity and dental cavities, including the role of ”hidden” sugars.
The WHO said much of the sugars consumed today are hidden in processed foods such as sweets, with sugary fizzy drinks having about 10 teaspoons of sugar.
Dr Francesco Branca, director of WHO’s Department of Nutrition for Health and Development, said: “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.
“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.”