In draft guidelines proposed this week, the World Health Organization is encouraging people to consume less than 5 percent of their daily calorie intake from sugars.
For an adult at a normal body mass index, that’s about 25 grams or six teaspoons of sugar per day.
However, efforts to cut back on sugar are hampered by the fact that many sugars are hidden in processed foods such as ketchup and yogurt.
NPR Health Correspondent Allison Aubrey talks to Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson and Robin Young about the draft proposal and the many ways sugar can sneak into your daily diet.
“In reality, it’s a lot less than most of us consume every day,” Aubrey says.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW.
We all know that too much sugar is not good for you. But this week, the World Health Organization defined too much, and it's been pretty stunning for some people, meaning me.
HOBSON: Those of us who drink a bottle of Coca-Cola very regularly. NPR's food and health correspondent Allison Aubrey joins us now with more. Hi, Allison.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Hi there, Jeremy.
HOBSON: Well, what is the latest thinking from the World Health Organization? How low should we be going?
AUBREY: Sure. Well, the World Health Organization is saying that we should be getting no more than 5 percent of our calories from sugar. So what is this? For a typical adult, this works out to be about six to nine teaspoons a day. Now, when you picture this, it might sound kind of, I don't know, generous. But in reality, it's a lot less than most of us consume every day. In fact, Americans consume about three times this amount, and one reason is that there is so much sugar added to the packaged foods and drinks we consume. We're often not even aware of how much we're getting.
YOUNG: Well, Allison, I have brought a Coca-Cola - it's 20 ounces - into the studio just for research purposes.
YOUNG: And I - well, you talk about teaspoons, but they're also speaking in terms of grams. I think they've advised something like 24 grams of sugar a day. In this 20-ounce bottle, there's 65 grams.
AUBREY: Wow. Right. Yeah.
YOUNG: Just stunning. So talk about sodas.
AUBREY: Sure. Well, I mean, soda and sweetened teas, other sweetened drinks are, you know, a good place to start because they are a top source of sugar consumption in the American diet. As you point out there, there's a whopping amount of sugar in your soda there. Just a 12-ounce can will have nine or 10 teaspoons of sugar. So just with that, you're pretty much at your daily limit of what the experts are now saying is healthy. You know, there's other examples in our food.
What I've got here in front of me is a yogurt, and this has 24 grams of sugar, which is about six teaspoons on its own. And what's important to point out here is that some of the sugar here in my yogurt is lactose. It's the natural sugar that's intrinsic to dairy. But a lot of it is added by the manufacturers. They've learned to really cater to our, you know, collective sweet tooth over the years. Another example - ketchup. I opened my refrigerator this morning, took out the bottle of ketchup to check the sugar content. There was almost a teaspoon of sugar in one tablespoon.
AUBREY: Now this is something that we think of as being savory, right? So these hidden or - they're not hidden because, you know, if you look at the grams, it is listed. But these unexpected sources, I think, really incrementally add up.
HOBSON: Actually, I saw a cooking show on TV yesterday and the person cooking poured, I think, a cup of ketchup into something that she was making. So I don't know what that was.
HOBSON: But why are we hearing about this all now because these ideas about sugar being bad for you are not new?
AUBREY: Sure. Well, I mean, a couple of reasons. As the obesity epidemic has become, you know, front and center, rates of Type-2 diabetes have soared not just in the U.S., but around the world - remember, this is the World Health Organization talking - sugar consumption plays a role here. I mean, it - basically what sugar is doing, it's adding calories to our diet without adding any other nutrients. These are empty calories.
So it's important to note that we're not talking about fruit here, right? Fruit has sugar. If we eat an orange or an apple, we're getting sugar. But we're also getting a lot more. We're getting a host of vitamins, micronutrients and fiber. So the message here is to cut back on these added sugars, you know, the corn syrups, the table sugars, the stuff that's added to our food by food manufacturers.
You might recall last week, the White House announced the new nutrition label or proposed new label, and they have added a line on the new label for added sugars to help us distinguish between the natural sugars, these intrinsic sugars, and those added.
HOBSON: NPR food and health correspondent Allison Aubrey. And let us know if you are cutting back on your sugar intake. You can go to hereandnow.org. You can also send us a tweet, @hereandnow. Allison, thanks.
AUBREY: Thank you, Jeremy. Thanks, Robin.
YOUNG: Thank you. I am so cutting back.
YOUNG: This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.