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World Health Organization recommends that no more than 5 percent of your caloric intake – that is, 25 grams – should come from sugar

I often drive by 198 New Toronto St. in south Etobicoke where Lantic Sugar is located.

The first link in the sentence above gives you a Google Street view of the location. The second link gives you an overview describing how sugar is refined.

View (looking toward Islington Ave.) of Lantic Sugar at 198 New Toronto St. in south Etobicoke. Jaan Pill photo

Whenever I drive by the Lantic Sugar plant, I think of the fact that it’s such an industrial-looking building. It looks like some kind of refinery. Then I think, “Well, what do you think sugar is? It’s a refined product. It’s the outcome of a refining process.”

The steps in the refining process, as the second link in the opening paragraph (above) notes, begins with the arrival of raw sugar. This is followed by several steps beginning with the removal of a molasses film on the surface of the raw sugar crystals. As a next step a high percentage of “impurities contained in the raw sugar crystals” are removed. The steps go on. The final step entails conditioning in which the moisture in the sugar crystals “is allowed to escape ensuring that the sugar will not harden or agglomerate at a later date.”

I mention the details as a preamble to a March 5, 2014 Globe and Mail article entitled: “WHO says limiting sugar to 5% of daily calories ‘ideal.'”

This blog post does not deal solely with refined sugar.

The image is from the following Tweet: Helen Green ‏@greenbumblebee Jun 17 Visual displays of #sugar content in soft drinks never fail to amaze me! #Nutrition #PublicHealth pic.twitter.com/RkcCkOfx9N

The sugars the article refers to include “sugar that manufacturers, cooks and consumers add to food, as well as honey, syrup, fruit juices and fruit concentrates.” It also specifies which sugars are not included (see excerpt immediately below).

What does five percent of daily calories amount to?

An excerpt from the article reads:

  • The proposed guidelines apply to so-called free sugars, which include sugar that manufacturers, cooks and consumers add to food, as well as honey, syrup, fruit juices and fruit concentrates. They do not apply to sugars that occur naturally in whole fruits, vegetables and unsweetened dairy products.
  • To meet the 5-per-cent target, an adult of a healthy weight would need to eat fewer than six teaspoons or 25 grams of sugar a day. That means one can of regular pop, which can contain 40 grams of sugar, would exceed the target. Even seemingly healthier foods can add up quickly – a sugar-sweetened yogurt, a bowl of cereal and a granola bar eaten over the course of a day would likely push one over the 5-per-cent mark.
  • “Five per cent is a very low target,” said Sandra Marsden, president of the Canadian Sugar Institute, an industry group. “I haven’t seen the evidence in the meta-analyses that were provided [by the WHO] that would support Canadians straying from our current dietary guidelines.”

[End of excerpt from the March 5, 2014 Globe and Mail article]

I made a point of buying the print version of Globe and Mail so that I could read the article in print form. I knew that version would have the information that I wanted, in a format that was readily accessible.

The printed version includes illustrations regarding what percentage of a person’s daily recommended sugar allowance (25 grams) – as recommended by the World Health Organization, in a set of draft guidelines – are accounted for by each of a series of everyday food items.

Below is a list of ten food items, with data regarding (a) total grams of sugar and (b) how the specified quantity compares to the daily sugar allowance recommended by WHO:

1. 1-can of sugar-sweetened pop contains 40 grams of sugar (60 percent more than the recommended limit).

2. One blueberry muffin contains 15.4 grams of  sugar (62 percent of the recommended sugar allowance).

3. 100 grams of fat-free, sweetened Greek yogurt contains 13 grams of sugar (52 percent of the the recommended sugar allowance).

4. A Mars bar gives you 32 grams of sugar (28 percent more than the recommended limit).

5. A 20-ounce Orange Gatorade provides 34 grams of sugar (36 percent more than the draft WHO guideline).

With regard to such drinks, a Jan. 31, 2014 CBC article notes: “Sports drinks unnecessary, counterproductive for most people.”

6. Two slices of Wonder whole wheat bread provide 3 grams of sugar (12 percent of the recommended daily sugar allowance).

7. One tablespoon of ketchup provides 4 grams of sugar (16 percent of the recommended daily limit).

8. A McDonald’s Big Mac provides 9 grams of sugar (36 percent of the daily limit).

9. 100 grams of ice cream provides 25 grams of sugar (100 percent of the recommended daily sugar allowance).

10. A tall vanilla latte provides 27 grams of sugar (8 percent more than the recommended daily sugar allowance).

A March 5, 2014 CBC article, entitled “Lower sugar intake to less than 5% of daily calories, WHO says,” also provides information about how much sugar is provided by a range of foods or food products.

Additional reports related to the WHO recommendations

Postcard image of Sugar Factory, Wallaceburg, Ont., 1910. Printed in Germany. Toronto Reference Library, Baldwin Room, Call No. PC-ON 2084

A Jan. 29, 2014 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “Sugar is the new tobacco. Here’s why.”

A Feb. 10, 2014 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “Take steps to reduce sugar in your diet to boost heart health.”

A Feb. 3, 2014 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “Excess sugar can triple risk of dying of heart disease: report.”

An April 30, 2014 Globe and Mail video is entitled: “Documentary reveals the dangers of sugar in our diets.”

A Dec. 3, 2014 Los Angeles Times article is entitled: “To prevent or reverse obesity and its ills, timing may be everything.”

A Dec. 26, 2014 Yahoo article is entitled: “15 Terrible Things That Happen When You Eat Too Much Sugar.”

A Jan. 26, 2015 CBC The Current podcast is entitled:”‘Fat doesn’t make you fat’: Nina Teicholz’s big surprise.”

A Feb. 2, 2015 CBC article is entitled: “Toddler foods with excessive sodium, added sugar set taste preferences: Parents may incorrectly assume foods designed for young children follow higher nutritional standards.”

A Feb. 7, 2015 CBC article is entitled: “Why toddler foods have so much sugar and salt: ‘The child’s biology really makes them vulnerable’ to food industry.”

An August 1, 2015 New York Times article is entitled: “My Dinner With Longevity Expert Dan Buettner (No Kale Required).” The article notes: Not a lot of dairy products.

A Jan. 17, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: “Sweet nightmares: a guide to cutting down on sugar: Sugar is making us fatter and sicker. Yet we still don’t realise how much we’re eating. As the government considers imposing a tax, we look at how to cut down without missing out. Plus: alternative recipes.”

A Dec. 16, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “Sugar’s on the food label, but you’ll have to guess how much has been ‘added’: Lobbying by food industry means Canada food labels won’t list ‘added sugar'”.

Small variations exist in how sugars are defined in media reports:

Sugars added during food processing or preparation

It may be noted that a text from the Feb. 10, 2014 article reads:

  • Added sugars are defined as those added during food processing or preparation (e.g., adding sugar to coffee or cereal). On labels they go by names such as brown sugar, corn syrup, brown rice syrup, cane syrup, dextrose, high fructose, fruit-juice concentrate, glucose-fructose, honey and molasses. They’re not naturally occurring sugars like those in fruit and pure fruit juice.

[End of excerpt]

Free sugars added by manufacturers, cooks, and consumers

The March 5, 2014 article, based on the WHO draft guidelines, speaks of sugars in the following terms:

  • The proposed guidelines apply to so-called free sugars, which include sugar that manufacturers, cooks and consumers add to food, as well as honey, syrup, fruit juices and fruit concentrates. They do not apply to sugars that occur naturally in whole fruits, vegetables and unsweetened dairy products.

[End of excerpt]

Free sugars as contrasted to “intrinsic” sugars

The March 5, 2014 CBC article (see above) about the WHO guidelines notes:

  • The recommendations relate to what are called free sugars – those added by manufacturers, cooks or consumers. And they abound in prepared foods.
  • They relate to all monosaccharides – things like glucose and fructose – and disaccharides such as sucrose or table sugar, as well as sugars in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit concentrates.
  • The recommendations do not relate to “intrinsic” sugars – those built into whole foods such as fruits or vegetables.

[End of excerpt]

Comment & updates

As a person who is keen about evidence-based practice, in any endeavour, I am very much impressed with these research reports. The evidence points to a very simple way – along with getting exercise, not spending countless hours sitting, and getting enough sleep – to enhance your health.

Updates: This post is concerned with the general topic of the relationship between the food we eat and our health. On that theme, a March 8, 2014 CBC article is entitled: “Pesticide traces in some tea exceed allowable limits.”

Also of interest, with regard to general health topics, is a March/April 2014 Mother Jones article entitled: “The scary new evidence on BPA-free plastics.”

A March 9, 2014 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “Some not-so-sweet facts about sugar in our food.”

A March 9, 2014 New York Times article is entitled: “The fat drug.”

An April 1, 2014 Guardian article is entitled: “Fruit and vegetable intake: five a day may not be enough, scientists say.”

The article, and similar reports in other media, is based on research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

An April 1, 2014 Daily Mail report regarding the above-mentioned research notes:

  • Fresh vegetables had the strongest protective effect, followed by salad and then fruit.
  • Frozen or tinned fruit increased the risk of premature death, but experts say this could reflect shortcomings in people’s overall diet including heavy reliance on processed food.
  • The study calls for the 5-a-day message based on World Health Organisation guidance to be revised upwards, and possibly exclude portions of dried and tinned fruit, smoothies and fruit juice which contain large amounts of sugar.

[End of excerpt]

A July 14, 2014 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “Ottawa seeks overhaul of how food labels measure sugar intake.”

A July 8, 2014 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “Is gaining weight inevitable as we age?”

The July 8, 2014 Globe article (see link above) refers to  the microbiome, which is also the subject of reports on Twitter and The Current (CBC).

The article notes: “Indeed, only 10 per cent of the genetic material inside our bodies belongs to us and the balance belongs to the bugs in our guts. The microbiome is comprised of bacteria that co-habitate our bodies, many of which are critical to our survival.”

A July 30, 2014 CBC article is entitled: “Drinking too much soda could affect adolescent memory, ability to learn.”

A Sept. 9, 2014 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “Heart and Stroke Foundation urges limits to sugar intake.”

A Sept. 17, 2914 CBC article is entitled: “Artificial sweeteners linked to obesity epidemic, scientists say: Drinking diet soda could cause weight gain, research suggests.”

A Sept. 23, 2014 Medical Press article is entitled: “Fruit and vegetable consumption could be as good for your mental as your physical health.”

A March 4, 2015 CBC article is entitled: “‘Leanwashing’ marketing tactic used to drive junk-food sales: Advertisers emphasize exercise rather than cutting back on their high-calorie products.”

A March 4, 2015 CBC article is entitled: “Sugar intake should be reduced to 5-10% of calories, WHO says: Guidelines aim to reduce risk of obesity and tooth decay for all ages.”

Sugary foods and excess carbohydrates

A March 17, 2014 New York Times article is entitled: “Study questions fat and heart disease link.” The article notes:

  • The smaller, more artery-clogging particles are increased not by saturated fat, but by sugary foods and an excess of carbohydrates, Dr. Chowdhury said. “It’s the high carbohydrate or sugary diet that should be the focus of dietary guidelines,” he said. “If anything is driving your low-density lipoproteins in a more adverse way, it’s carbohydrates.”

[End of excerpt]

Updates

A March 16, 2014 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “Brazil takes an unambiguous new approach to fighting fat.”

The latter article notes that Brazil’s proposed new guide urges people to be critical of food-industry advertising, and introduces healthy eating as a lifestyle choice. The article concludes with the following ten key points from the proposed document:

The authors of Brazil’s proposed dietary guidelines boiled down the 87-page document into 10 basic steps:

  • 1. Prepare meals using fresh and staple foods.
  • 2. Use oils, fats, sugar and salt in moderation.
  • 3. Limit consumption of ready-to-eat food and drink products.
  • 4. Eat at regular mealtimes and pay attention to your food instead of multitasking. Find a comfortable place to eat. Avoid all-you-can-eat buffets and noisy, stressful environments.
  • 5. Eat with others whenever possible.
  • 6. Buy food in shops and markets that offer a variety of fresh foods. Avoid those that sell mainly ready-to-eat products.
  • 7. Develop, practise, share and enjoy your skills in food preparation and cooking.
  • 8. Decide as a family to share cooking responsibilities and dedicate enough time for healthy meals.
  • 9. When you eat out, choose restaurants that serve freshly made dishes. Avoid fast-food chains.
  • 10. Be critical of food-industry advertising.
  • Source: Guia Alimentar Para a Populacao Brasileira (2014)

[End]

A March 5, 2016 CBC article is entitled; A Canada’s Food Guide should seek inspiration from Brazil: researcher: New Senate obesity report suggests introducing a sugar tax in Canada.”

A Sept. 13, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “Sugar industry paid scientists for favourable research, documents reveal: Harvard study in 1960s cast doubt on sugar’s role in heart disease, pointing finger at fat.”

A Sept. 16, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “It’s time to eliminate treats in schools: health experts: Downplay food, give children a chance to be more active with extra recess time, games.”

An Oct. 7, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: “Junk food shortening lives of children worldwide, data shows: Obesity, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure at unprecedented levels due to spread of fast food and sugary drinks.”

An Oct. 10, 2016 Toronto Star article is entitled: “Doctors’ Notes: Watch out for “free” sugar in foods; Knowing how much sugar you’re eating is complicated — more complicated than it should be.”

An Oct. 13, 2016 undark.org article is entitled: “In the Fight Against Obesity, the Real Enemy Is Oversimplification: Fat used to be Dietary Enemy No. 1. Today, it’s sugar. But reductions in the consumption of both have done little to curb obesity rates. Why?”

A January/February 2017 Atlantic article is entitled: “The Sugar Wars: Science can’t prove it and the industry denies it, but Gary Taubes is convinced that the sweet stuff kills.”

A Jan. 12, 2017 CBC article is entitled: Added sugar often found in Canadian products marketed as ‘healthy,’ researchers find: Why ‘you really need to be a detective’ when reading food labels.”

A Jan. 16, 2017) CBC The Current podcast, entitled “Is sugar killing us? Author Gary Taubes makes his case,” provides a great overview of the distinction between evidence (that is, the facts of the matter, in this case related to the science related to nutrition) and the frame within which scientific facts are positioned.

A Feb. 10, 2017 CBC article is entitled: “Sugary drink consumption by youth far exceeds recommended limit, researchers say: Researchers project health effects including diabetes, heart disease and cancer.”

A March 17, 2017 CBC article is entitled: “Amazon men in their 80s have the arteries of Americans in their 50s: Lancet study shows diet low on processed carbs, sugar, while active living boost heart health.”

A March 17, 2017 Guardian article is entitled: “Tsimané of the Bolivian Amazon have world’s healthiest hearts, says study: Heart attacks and strokes are almost unknown amongst the Tsimané thanks to a high carbohydrate, low protein diet and active lifestyle, say researchers.”

A March 18, 2017 BBC article is entitled: “‘Healthiest hearts in the world’ found.”

An April 25, 2017 Science Daily article is entitled: “Parents’ use of emotional feeding increases emotional eating in school-age children.”

A summary of the research report from the Society for Research in Child Development, on which the article is based, reads:

“Emotional eating is not uncommon in children and adolescents, but why youth eat emotionally has been unclear. Now a new longitudinal study from Norway has found that school-age children whose parents fed them more to soothe their negative feelings were more likely to eat emotionally later on. The reverse was also found to be the case, with parents of children who were more easily soothed by food being more likely to feed them for emotional reasons.”

An April 25, 2017 Guardian article is entitled: “Backlash after report claims saturated fats do not increase heart risk: Relying on low fat foods to avoid heart disease is misguided, say cardiologists, but critics say comments ignore evidence.”

An April 26, 2017 CBC article is entitled: “Pass the butter: Cutting saturated fat does not reduce heart disease risk, cardiologists say: Focus should instead be on eating ‘real food,’ walking and reducing stress.”

A BBC article, accessed June 22, 2017, article is entitled: “How much sugar is in your snack?”

 

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