SACN: Lowering the sugar recommendations…

Facts about sugar from Registered Nutritionist

As mentioned in my last blog, the conversation on sugar and health is a very popular topic in the nutrition world right now. But recent news sees the government’s advisory body SACN (Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition) suggesting that the current recommendation for sugar IS set too high and that current recommendations SHOULD be halved. This idea was proposed earlier on in the year by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and supported by campaign group Action on Sugar.

I was actually shocked by the news that SACN are agreeing to reduce the current recommendation and to me this demonstrates the power of a good campaign alongside the overwhelming evidence and growing awareness that sugar is bad for our health and is found in far too many of our everyday foods.

In March the WHO recommended that sugar consumption should be making up no more than 5% of our daily energy intake. That’s 5% of ‘free sugars’ – so those added into foods including those found naturally in fruit juice and in honey – however, not those naturally occurring in fruit and milk.

The latest SACN Draft Carbohydrate Report supports this and also sets an ‘upper limit’ of no more than 10% of energy from free sugars.

So what does this mean in practice? For an average adult woman, this means aiming to consume no more than around 25g of added sugar or 6 teaspoons a day.

The table below gives more details on the upper and recommended limits for an average man and woman:

Sugar recommendations for Adults SACN

For some of us, this may seem very low and a tweet I read shows how, for some people, this may be difficult to achieve…

Twitter Chat on Sugar

So why have SACN agreed to this recommendation? 

It seems there is an overwhelming amount of research suggesting that sugar is bad for our health, including a clear association with obesity, increasing the risk of diabetes and leading to tooth decay. It also seems that in the UK most age groups are consuming too much of the white stuff as can be demonstrated by this chart from a BBC article on the topic.

BBC Sugar Intake Infographic

It is important that we remember that there is not one thing responsible for poor health and the obesity epidemic. It is the responsibility of a vast number of interlinking factors, however, having a government advisory body acknowledge the problem of sugar and make recommendations to reduce it is, I believe, a huge step in the right direction.

The trouble is that the government is always too afraid to tell people what to do, for fear of being labelled a ‘nanny state’, couple that with the overpowering effect of the food industry and you can see how it is difficult to put healthy recommendations into practice. As a brilliant article from the Guardian puts it:

“The power of the industry is the single biggest obstacle to a healthier country: see the 50-year campaign against smoking for confirmation.” 

America has also constantly tried to put a cap on sugary beverages (clearly outlined as the major culprit in obesity, diabetes and tooth decay) but many of their efforts have been strongly campaigned against by food and drink organisations protecting their profits. Will the same thing happen in the UK? It is likely.

What do other experts think

Most seem to be welcoming the new sugar recommendations but an overall consensus is that it is going to be considerably hard to put into place, as we are all consuming far too many foods that contain ‘hidden’ sugars. Or, to put it more simply, sugars that we may not be aware are added into our foods.

The report recommends reducing the consumption of free sugar in the diet to 5% of dietary energy, and an increase in the amount of fibre in the diet. As a nation we are already failing to meet the present guidelines for these, which is a measure of the challenge we all face.” 

Others, including myself, are also highlighting that this is effectively the same message we have been giving out to the public for a long time – eat a balanced diet, get your fruit and vegetables, eat more fibre, consume less fat, sugar and salt and avoid too many processed foods.

You heard it here first folks 😉

Further Reading:

SACN’s draft report

Public Health England’s Report

Expert Opinion

WHO’s draft report 

Guardian Article

BBC Coverage

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