In a scientific statement published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, the AHA distinguished sugars added to foods during processing from naturally occurring sugars, and picked out the former for attack.
The charity said added sugars are implicated in the obesity crisis and are associated with increased risks of high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels, as well as other causes of heart disease and stroke.
In view of these dangers and in order to give consumers more detailed guidance, the AHA laid down recommendations for daily consumption. The new guidelines state that women should consume no more than 100 calories of added sugars per day while most men should not exceed 150 calories.
These figures are so strict that a woman would exceed the daily limit by drinking just one 12-ounce can of regular soda, which contains about 130 calories, according to lead author Rachel Johnson, professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont in Burlington.
The AHA statement picked out soft drink makers for particular criticism, describing them as the number one source of added sugar in the American diet.
The American Beverage Association (ABA) quickly came to the defense of its members in the soft drink business saying that obesity and heart disease are complex problems that can not be reduced to the number of calories found in particular drinks.
“You can be a healthy person and enjoy soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages in moderation,” said ABA spokesperson Maureen Storey. “What matters most is balancing the calories from the food and beverages we eat and drink with regular physical activity.”
But according to the AHA most people are consuming levels of added sugar that easily exceed the moderate levels it has published in the daily guidelines.
While the charity advises most men to consume less than 130 calories of added sugars a day, the average daily intake of added sugars in the American diet is 355 calories, according to a report from the 2001-04 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).
So what are the implications of the AHA statement for the food industry and soft drink makers in particular?
Angus Flood, head of international marketing at Pure Circle, said the added sugar guidelines have “profound implications” for the food industry. Flood said: “It is absolutely certain that there will be reduced levels of sugar in food products.”
He said such an announcement from a high profile body like the AHA is likely to increase consumer pressure on food and beverage companies to commit to large percentage reductions in sugar levels and step up efforts to reformulate with stevia.
The marketing head said the news may also renew interest in a soda tax if government does not have confidence in the willingness of industry to change the sugar content of mass products aimed at consumers who care little about the health dangers posed by sugary drinks and foods.
Source: Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association
"Dietary Sugars Intake and Cardiovascular Health: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association,"
Authors: Rachel K. Johnson, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., Lawrence J. Appel, M.D., M.P.H.; Michael Brands, Ph.D.; Barbara V. Howard, Ph.D.; Michael Lefevre, Ph.D.; Robert H. Lustig, M.D.; Frank Sacks, M.D.; Lyn M. Steffen, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D.; and Judith Wylie-Rosett, Ed.D., R.D.