March 5, 2014 at 2:12 PM ET
Just try sugar-coating this: The World Health Organization says your daily sugar intake should be just 5 percent of your total calories — half of what the agency previously recommended, according to new draft guidelines published Wednesday.
After a review of about 9,000 studies, WHO's expert panel says dropping sugar intake to that level will combat obesity and cavities. That includes sugars added to foods and those present in honey, syrups and fruit juices, but not those occurring naturally in fruits.
Dr. Francesco Branca, WHO's director for nutrition, conceded the new target was somewhat aspirational. "We should aim for 5 percent if we can ... but 10 percent is more realistic," he said in a news conference on Wednesday.
Americans and others in the West eat a lot more sugar than that: Their average sugar intake would have to drop by two-thirds to meet WHO's suggested limit.
When WHO last revised its sugar guidelines more than a decade ago, it recommended sugar should be less than 10 percent of daily calories. The U.S. sugar industry was so incensed it lobbied Congress to threaten to withdraw millions of dollars in funding to WHO. A contentious reference to the sugar limit was removed from a global diet strategy, but the recommendation passed.
There is no universally agreed consensus on how much sugar is too much. The American Heart Association advises limiting sugar to about 8 percent of your diet, or six teaspoons a day for women and nine for men. A study led by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published last month found too much sugar can raise the chances of fatal heart problems. Researchers found the average American gets about 15 percent of their calories from sugar, similar to other Western nations.
New nutrition labels proposed in the U.S. will also require food manufacturers to list any added sugars, plus a more prominent calorie count.