The World Health Organization is challenging you to eat no more than six teaspoons of sugar per day.
In a new guideline on sugar consumption, the United Nations’ health agency reiterates its 2002 recommendation that no more than 10% of daily calories come in the form of sugar. But this time around, the WHO adds that people would get additional benefits if they can keep their sugar consumption below 5% of daily calories.
That’s likely to be a tall order. For an adult with a normal body mass index, 5% of daily calories works out to about 25 grams of sugar, or six teaspoons, the WHO says.
Added sugar is hidden in all kinds of processed foods. A single tablespoon of ketchup has about one teaspoon of sugar. A Quaker chewy granola bar with chocolate chips has almost two teaspoons of sugar. A single cup of apple juice or a container of Yoplait’s original strawberry yogurt would take up your entire recommended daily allowance.
In an announcement on its website, the WHO says it is offering new guidance on sugar consumption in response to research documenting its deleterious effects: “There is increasing concern that consumption of free sugars, particularly in the form of sugar-sweetened beverages, may result in both reduced intake of foods containing more nutritionally adequate calories and an increase in total caloric intake, leading to an unhealthy diet, weight gain and increased risk of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs).”
Worries about cavities and other dental problems played a role too, WHO says: “Dental diseases are the most prevalent NCDs globally and … continue to cause pain, anxiety, functional limitation and social handicap through tooth loss, for large numbers of people worldwide.”
A study published last month in JAMA Internal Medicine reported that a whopping 71.4% of American adults get more than 10% of their calories from sugar. Even worse, the study linked higher levels of sugar consumption with an increased risk of death due to cardiovascular disease.
The Harvard School of Public Health says a typical American eats and drinks 22 teaspoons’ worth of added sugar each day. That adds up to 350 calories, according to this helpful fact sheet.
Added sugars go by many names when they are listed on nutrition labels of processed foods. Some of their aliases include high fructose corn syrup, anhydrous dextrose, maltose, evaporated cane juice and fruit juice concentrates. (Harvard and the U.S. Department of Agriculture offer thorough lists on their websites.)
The WHO’s new recommendation is still in draft form, and the agency is seeking public comments through March 31. To share your views, go to this site to download a “declaration of interest” form to declare any potential conflicts. After that has been submitted, you’ll receive information on how to access the comment form.