It is difficult even for experienced scientists to agree on the interpretation of their findings. Add to that external research funding linked to commercial interests and it is even more difficult to know what to believe.
A case in point. If you thought excessive sugar intake is the root of the evil obesity epidemic you might have to think again.
Sugar advice questioned
There has been a scathing attack on global health advice to eat less sugar. Through industry proxies, a scientific review now claims that warnings to cut sugar are based on weak evidence and cannot be trusted.
The review identified 9 guidelines that offered 12 recommendations, all indicating a suggested decrease in the consumption of foods containing nonintrinsic sugars (that is added sugar to you and me). The recommendations were based on various health concerns, including nutrient displacement, dental caries, and weight gain. However, the reviewers claimed that no guideline met criteria for trustworthy recommendations and were all based on low-quality evidence.
The review was paid for by the International Life Sciences Institute, a scientific group funded by multinational food and agrochemical companies.
Tainted from the beginning. When will industry ever learn.
The review findings immediately questioned
Predictably, the review quickly received sharp criticism from public health experts. It was but the latest effort of the food industry to influence global nutrition advice by supporting prominent academics questioning the role of sugary food and beverages in causing obesity and other health problems.
The review was seen as an attempt to undermine sugar guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO) to consume fewer products with added sugar, such as soft drinks, candy and sweetened cereals. It is a classic example of how industry funding is used to influence opinion.
To be fair to the review team, they wanted their results to be used to promote improvement in the development of trustworthy guidelines on sugar intake. They also emphasised that the review findings should not be used to justify higher intake of sugary foods and beverages.
Still, nutrition experts say that the review team ignored the hundreds of randomised controlled trials that have documented the harms of sugar. There are strong scientific evidence that sugar contribute to adverse health conditions like weight gain and Type 2 diabetes. The view is that the review team ignored the real data, created false scores, and somehow got through a peer review system difficult to understand from a reputable journal like Annals of Internal Medicine.
The WHO contrary point of view
So until we have the general scientific opinion swinging over to supporting sugar, it is clearly best to stick to the WHO recommendations.
A WHO guideline of 2015 recommends that adults and children reduce their daily intake of free sugars to less than 10% of their total energy intake. WHO also believes that a further reduction to below 5% or roughly 25 grams (6 teaspoons) per day would provide additional health benefits.
Free sugars refer to monosaccharides (such as glucose, fructose) and disaccharides (such as sucrose or table sugar) added to foods and drinks by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates. But the guideline does not refer to the sugars in fresh fruits and vegetables, and sugars naturally present in milk.
Contrary to the above review findings, WHO states that they have solid evidence that keeping intake of free sugars to less than 10% of total energy intake reduces the risk of overweight, obesity and tooth decay. Based on the quality of supporting evidence, these recommendations are ranked by WHO as “strong”.
So there you have it. And if you embark on reducing your sugar intake remember that much of the sugars consumed today are “hidden” in processed foods that are not usually seen as sweets.