WHO recommendations put the spotlight on “hidden” sugars

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended adults and children reduce their daily intake of free sugars to less than 10 percent of their total energy intake. A further reduction to below 5 percent or roughly 25 grams (6 teaspoons) per day would provide additional health benefits.

The recommendation may have implications for food manufacturers, as the free sugars WHO warns needs to be limited refers to monosaccharides (such as glucose, fructose) and disaccharides (such as sucrose or table sugar) added to foods and drinks by the manufacturer, cook or consumer. It also includes sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates.

WHO said much of the sugars consumed today are “hidden” in processed foods that are not usually seen as sweets. For example, 1 tablespoon of ketchup contains around 4 grams (around 1 teaspoon) of free sugars. A single can of sugar-sweetened soda contains up to 40 grams (around 10 teaspoons) of free sugars.

The WHO guideline does not refer to the sugars in fresh fruits and vegetables, and sugars naturally present in milk, because there is no reported evidence of adverse effects of consuming these sugars.

The release yesterday of the guidelines has prompted a coalition of leading health organisations to call for a national strategy around obesity that includes policies to directly impact the amount of added sugars in Australians’ diets.

Executive Manager of the Obesity Policy Coalition, Jane Martin said at present, Australians consume far more than the recommended 6 teaspoons of free sugar a day.

Most of the added sugar comes from the sugary drinks and highly processed ‘extra’ foods that make up more than a third of our diet.  

“While sugary drinks have to be the number one target to reduce our sugar intake, we also need to pay attention to the highly processed foods, like breakfast cereals and yoghurts which people often don’t realise are high in sugar.

“There are a lot of inexpensive and effective policies that the government could implement to reduce the sugar-coated environment in which we live – many countries are moving in this direction. They include restricting the sale of sugary drinks in schools and healthcare settings, ensuring that the star front of pack labels are implemented widely for all packaged foods, restricting marketing of foods high in sugar to children, reformulating foods and taxing high sugar drinks,” Martin said.



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