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Americans struggle to stick to added sugars advice

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 24-Nov-2010

Despite industry reduction efforts, Americans still far exceed recommended limits for intake of added sugars, consuming an average of 475 calories’ worth per day, according to the American Heart Association.

Speaking at the American Dietetic Association’s Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo in Boston, the chair-elect of the American Heart Association’s nutrition committee Rachel Johnson outlined recent dietary advice given to Americans on added sugars – and the huge variation in how much added sugar different people can consume as part of a balanced diet. The AHA nutrition committee advises on food certification for the Heart Check program, among other responsibilities.

Johnson, who is also a nutrition professor at the University of Vermont, said that currently, 35 percent of calories come from solid fats and added sugars in the average American diet, when the recommended maximum is five to 15 percent of calories.

‘Consumers needed a number’

Johnson said: “I served on the 2000 [Dietary Guidelines] Advisory Committee, which advised people ‘to moderate’ intake of sugars. In 2005, the guidelines said to consume ‘little’ added sugars. The 2010 report suggests to ‘significantly reduce’ added sugars.

“We [at the American Heart Association] felt that consumers needed a number.”

Although the AHA Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations in 2006 had recommended that people should ‘minimize intake of added sugars’, an updated statement released last year quantified how much added sugar was appropriate for different population sub-groups.

“Most American women can consume about 100 calories a day of added sugars or six teaspoons, while most American men have room in their diet for about 150 calories, or nine teaspoons,” Johnson said.

“[The current average of] 475 calories per person per day is equivalent to about 30 teaspoons a day. So we have a long way to go.”

She said that a young, active male can have as many as 288 calories coming from added sugars, while an older sedentary female may have room for only 48 calories’ worth of added sugars.

Sugar-sweetened drinks

With this in mind, Johnson advised that people should simply avoid sugary soft drinks – although the AHA has avoided singling out specific foods and beverages in its position statement. She cited NHANES data, which has found that about 36 percent of added sugars in the American diet come from sugar-sweetened drinks.

“Added sugars either add calories or displace other nutritious foods,” she said.

However, Johnson commended the food industry for its efforts to reformulate with less added sugar, urging dietitians and consumers to continue checking product labels.

“The amount of added sugars in foods is a very fluid area as many manufacturers are working to reduce the amount of sugars added to their products,” she said.

Consumers should also be made aware of the difference between added and naturally occurring sugars, Johnson added, saying that it is important to compare plain versions of cereal or yogurt, for example, and compare them with sweetened varieties to work out the proportion of added sugars.

“The bottom line is don’t drink sugar-sweetened beverages and don’t worry about the naturally occurring sugars in milk and plain yogurt,” she said.