In the UK, the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) has published its final report on carbohydrates and health, which suggests that Public Health England adopts a number of changes to current intake recommendations.
Its key findings include that the intake recommendation for sugar should be halved from no more than 10% of total energy to no more than 5%; and suggested levels of fibre consumption should be increased by roughly a quarter, from 23g per day to 30g per day.
The culmination of a 9-week consultation period, the report also asserts that excess intake of free sugars, which replaces the previous measure of non-milk extrinsic sugars, is associated with increased risk of tooth decay and increased energy intakes; sugar-sweetened drinks are associated with the risk of developing type-2 diabetes, and leading to both weight gain and increased body mass index in teenagers; while children should not be allowed to consume sugary drinks, opting instead for water or lower fat milks.
The changes have been broadly welcomed by a number of nutritionists registered with the Association for Nutrition.
Dr Alison Hill, an Association for Nutrition registered nutritionist (sport and exercise) said: “This report consolidates the scientific evidence that food and drinks with added sugars have been shown to increase the risk of type-2 diabetes. It highlights how important it is to make sure you only eat and drink small amounts of food and drinks high in sugars. They should be consumed infrequently rather than as everyday choices.”
Consumers have also been told to up their fibre intake levels from 23g to 30g a day.
Registered nutritionist (public health) Jennifer Rosborough added: “The new recommendation that no more than 5% of our daily energy should come from sugars does mean that people will have to change what they eat and drink, but it is something that is achievable and is needed to improve diets and health. The public deserve to know what’s best for our health and even if we’re just working towards [the 5%] to begin with, it’s a start that will lead to positive health outcomes.”
But the move is not likely to be universally popular. Food and Drink Federation director general Ian Wright said: “The most thorough scientific review of carbohydrates and health carried out in recent years should leave people in no doubt that sugars can be enjoyed safely as part of a varied and balanced diet. Sensationalist commentaries on this everyday ingredient that are not based in science should now be relegated to the past. Demonising any one ingredient in the obesity debate isn’t helpful.
“The report confirms what we already know – that sugars are a contributing factor to tooth decay and if consumed in excess can lead to weight gain. Companies’ ongoing work to lower calories in foods and drinks, including reducing sugars, and to offer a range of portion sizes and low and zero calorie options, supports this ambition. Food and drink producers have been fortifying products with added fibre for years.
“To meet the stretching dietary goals that SACN recommends will mean changes to the way people eat. Published diet modelling shows that people can reduce free sugars and boost fibre in the diet in a number of ways while still fitting in the foods and drink they enjoy. We hope SACN’s key recommendations will be translated into meaningful and practical diet and lifestyle messages which are consistently used by everyone with a voice in the health debate.
“UK food and drink businesses remain committed to helping our customers achieve better, more balanced diets. We will continue to engage with government and other partners and to be part of the solution to tackling obesity.”
The British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA), which has in the past rejected calls for a soft drinks tax to be brought to the UK, has echoed the suggestion that the new measures ignore the work that the industry is already doing to reduce consumers’ intake of sugar.
BSDA director general Gavin Partington said: “Some people do need to reduce their sugar intake and eat a more balanced diet, but today’s recommendations make little sense and will further confuse people.
“Our industry is taking action to help and has successfully provided the choice that consumers need by developing a wide range of low and no sugar drinks. Manufacturers have reduced sugar intake from all soft drinks by more than 8% since 2012. Our ongoing work will do more to reduce sugar intake than the setting of unrealistic targets that do not consider overall diet and lifestyle.
“The fact is there is no difference between the sugar in soft drinks and the sugar in other types of food and drink. It is baffling that soft drinks have been singled out and the industry’s work to reduce the nation’s sugar intake ignored.”
Sharon Fisher, communications manager of sugar producer AB Sugar, questioned the effectiveness of the potential changes: “People are bombarded with differing advice on what to eat and drink, often leading to confusion. We welcome any guidance which helps inform policy-makers, particularly when it comes to helping people better understand what they eat and drink as part of a balanced diet. However, given that the scientific focus of the report was dietary carbohydrates and health outcomes in the round, we question whether the dietary recommendations which focus on one type of ingredient alone – sugars – will reduce levels of obesity, which remains a key focus for the UK.”
Key points of SACN’s report
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2022
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