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Heart Group: Limit Added Sugars in Diet

American Heart Association Issues Guidelines on How Much Added Sugar Is Too Much
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 24, 2009 -- The American Heart Association today released new recommendations on limiting intake of added dietary sugars.

Back in 2006, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommended minimizing consumption of beverages and foods with added sugars.

Now, the AHA is getting more specific, with recommendations detailed down to the teaspoon based on a person's age, sex, and activity level.

In its statement, published online in the journal Circulation, the AHA states that "excessive consumption of sugars has been linked with several metabolic abnormalities and adverse health conditions, as well as shortfalls of essential nutrients."

The sugar industry takes issue with the AHA's paper. In a statement emailed to WebMD, the Sugar Association says that the AHA's emphasis on sugary foods is "misplaced" and "may have unforeseen detrimental consequences."

Added Sugar Guidelines

How much added sugar does the AHA suggest? Maybe less than you get on a typical day.

The AHA's new guidelines depend upon a person's "discretionary calories" -- their calorie budget beyond what they need to run their bodies without overindulging. Your discretionary calorie allowance depends on your age, sex, and activity level.

"Most American women should eat or drink no more than 100 calories per day from added sugars, and most American men should eat or drink no more than 150 calories per day from added sugars," states the AHA.

The AHA's paper includes examples of upper limits on added sugars for various groups of adults, but not for children. Here are those examples:

  • Active man aged 21-25: up to 18 teaspoons (288 calories)
  • Sedentary man aged 46-50: up to 9 teaspoons (144 calories)
  • Moderately active woman aged 51-55: up to 5 teaspoons (80 calories)
  • Sedentary woman aged 71-75: up to 3 teaspoons (48 calories)

The AHA notes that one 12-ounce can of cola contains about 8 teaspoons of sugar, or about 130 calories. That's more than the AHA suggests for a moderately active woman in her early 50s.

The AHA's new guidelines don't include sugar found naturally in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, or milk.  By "added sugars," the AHA means sugars that you add to food yourself, and also to sugars and syrups used to make foods or drinks.

The experts who wrote the new guidelines aren't against sugars. They write that sugars are found naturally in many healthy foods, and that adding sugars to foods makes them tastier. Their point is about overdoing it. 

"Deleterious health effects may occur when sugars are consumed in large amounts," write the AHA panelists, who included Rachel Johnson, PhD, MPH, RD, of the University of Vermont.

Johnson's team is talking about extra weight and its health risks, effects on metabolism, and missing out on nutrients that may be lacking in sugary fare.

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