DGAC’s criticism of high intensity sweeteners is “contradictory", says ABA

DGAC "ignores science", says American Beverage Association; but CSPI welcomes its 'blunt advice' to consume fewer sugary drinks

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

DGAC report "ignores evidence", says American Beverage Association

Related tags Nutrition Coffee Caffeine

If the meat lobby isn’t happy with the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s (DGAC’s) recommendations on what constitutes a healthy diet, neither it seems, is the American Beverage Association (ABA), which also issued a statement claiming the expert panel had gone beyond its remit. 

Its comments came as the DGAC - a panel of experts tasked with developing recommendations about what Americans should eat – submitted its report​ to the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture (USDA), which will publish the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans later this year.

You can read the highlights HERE​ and the full report HERE​, but some passages which did not go down well with the ABA were:

  • Sugars should be reduced in the diet and not replaced with low-calorie sweeteners​, but rather with healthy options, such as water in place of sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • Sugar-sweetened beverage taxes​ may encourage consumers to reduce sugar-sweetened beverage consumption.
  • Dramatically reducing the intake of sugar-sweetened beverages​ ... would help lower intakes of added sugars.
  • Moderate evidence from prospective cohort studies indicates that higher intake of added sugars, especially in the form of sugar-sweetened beverages, is consistently associated with increased risk of hypertension, stroke, and CHD in adults​...Increased consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages was consistently associated with increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Consumption of 3 to 5 cups of coffee​ per day or up to 400 mg per day caffeine​ is not associated with increased long-term health risks​…. [but] some evidence links high caffeine intake in the form of energy drinks to certain adverse outcomes, such as caffeine toxicity and cardiovascular events.
  • At the level that the U.S. population consumes aspartame​, it appears to be safe. However, some uncertainty continues about increased risk of hematopoietic cancer in men, indicating a need for more research.

High intensity sweeteners are a well established tool for weight management, says ABA

By recommending soda taxes, said the ABA, “the Committee’s efforts went beyond its charge and authority to develop dietary recommendations based on scientific evidence by advocating for public policies such as taxes and restrictions on foods and beverages. The Committee does not have the authority to make such recommendations, nor the scientific evidence or expertise to back up its recommendations.”

On the DGAC’s advice to reduce consumption of sugar and sugar-sweetened beverages for health reasons, the ABA said: “Numerous studies have shown that restricting one food or food group is not the best approach for achieving calorie balance or maintaining a healthy weight.”​ (Click HERE​ to read its response to the claims re. CHD and diabetes.)  

The Committee went beyond its scope

On aspartame, it said: “The Committee went beyond its scope in examining the safety of low- and no-calorie sweeteners and caffeine, ingredients that have been repeatedly deemed safe by the FDA for decades.”

Moreover, the DGAC’s criticism of high intensity sweeteners is “contradictory”, ​said the ABA, given that “the body of science clearly shows that these ingredients can be an effective tool in weight loss, weight management and management of health conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.”


Finally, on caffeine, it said: “The recommendations did not scientifically define ‘high’ caffeine intake and inappropriately, narrowly and arbitrarily focused on a single category of products, energy drinks – which often have considerably less caffeine than similarly sized containers of coffee.”

CSPI: The strong recommendations on added sugars are important and have far-reaching policy implications

However, the DGAC’s advice to drink fewer sugary drinks was welcomed by many commentators.

Washington DC-based consumer advocacy group the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) said: “The strong recommendations on added sugars are important and have far-reaching policy implications.  First, the report recommends limiting added sugars to a maximum of 10% of calories.

“The report bluntly recommends that Americans consume fewer sugary drinks. And it recommends adding a line for added sugars on Nutrition Facts panels, expressed in teaspoons as well as grams, and with a new Daily Value.”

I worry that the public may think they can drink more coffee than the guidelines really suggest

Lisa Young, PhD, RD, adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University, told FoodNavigator-USA that the DGAC was on the right track, adding: "The DGAC report supports the possibility of soda taxes as an incentive to promote purchasing healthier beverages,  policy changes for SNAP to encourage purchasing healthier items, and limiting food marketing to kids, all steps in the right direction to promote a healthier food environment... I also support water as beverage of choice. Excellent!"

starbucks coffees

She added: “I support a recommendation for ​[added] sugar. 10% of calories is a start. However, I tend to prefer seeing guidelines for this in teaspoons, more user friendly than percent of calories and grams of sugar.”

As regards the advice about coffee, it was a little misleading to suggest that you can drink 3-5 cups a day without exceeding 400mg of caffeine, said Dr Young, given that “3-5 cups translates into 2-3 Starbucks sized cups”.

She added: “I worry that the public may think they can drink more coffee than the guidelines really suggest. Education on serving size is necessary here. And, no one got sick from omitting coffee in their diet. So no need to start drinking coffee...and remember, hold the cream and whole milk, and the skip the sugar, of course.”

Click HERE​ to read what the meat and dairy lobby thinks of the DGAC report.

Click HERE​ to read the highlights.

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1 comment

Moderation is still the best policy

Posted by Meg Finerty,

We keep seeking the holy grail of the perfect diet. In order to do research, we need to lean to one extreme in order to see an effect. There is a wide range in the amount of animal and plant protein that could be consumed and still have good cholesterol. However, the trend of serving 12 oz and 16 oz steaks as one serving is very misleading--that should be maximum for a day not a meal. From experience, I exceeded the maximum caffeine by having a continuous coffee cup in my hand all day. When I stopped, I had jitters and headache and when I tried to get my cortisol back in line, I had trouble focusing and it took several months for my body to adjust. Now, I can drink a 12 oz latte and a cup or two of tea as a maximum per day. The 500 mg or more that are in shots may be OK if that is the sole source of caffeine, but eventually, the body will no longer be able to compensate. Consumers need to be aware of their body's reactions and be responsible consumers. There is an assumption in USA that if it is labeled as food it is safe. Once we get to higher doses, it should be a drug or supplement and the consumer should be aware that it may not be safe for multiple uses each day.

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