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Stop eating so much sugar, American Heart Assn. says [Updated]

August 25, 2009 |  2:39 pm

Sugar You may have read about the looming sugar shortage. Apparently, because a lot more corn is being shunted toward ethanol production, corn syrup for sweetening processed food and beverages has gotten pricier. Meanwhile, there are strict quotas on how much cane and beet sugar (the sugar we buy in white bags) the country can import.

Faced with this frightening, imminent crisis, several food and beverage companies and trade groups wrote a wake-up-call letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary on Aug. 5 in which it warned that if USDA forecasts are correct, "the United States will end the next fiscal year with less than 13 days' worth of sugar on hand, unless imports are increased…our nation will virtually run out of sugar." And Lord knows that would be terrible, because we don't get nearly enough of it.

As coincidence would have it, today the American Heart Assn. came out with a scientific statement saying we're eating way too much sugar and it's doing a number on our health. The statement, which was published in the journal Circulation, notes that we're eating, on average, 22.2 teaspoons of added sugars daily and that there's evidence that this habit makes us fatter and raises our risk for heart disease and diabetes. It recommends a "prudent upper limit" of added sugar intake of about 100 calories a day for a woman and 150 calories a day for a man. Definitely no more than half the discretionary calories we may have at our disposal each day.

(I just exceeded my daily upper limit in a moment of madness involving two strawberry, iced Pop Tarts--which I usually don't eat, but I did today, and there you go. They contained 34 grams of added sugar –at 4 calories per gram, that's 136 calories right there.)

For a take on the AHA's announcement, go to New York University professor Marion Nestle's Food Politics blog. Among other things, she writes: "This is the first time the AHA has seriously weighed in on sugar.  I find this especially interesting because the AHA has a long history of endorsing sugary cereals (as I discuss in Food Politics and also in What to Eat)."

Above Nestle's comment is an image of a package of Kellogg's Smart Start cereal with an American Heart Assn. heart-check mark in the lower left corner. "This product has sugars of one kind or another listed 9 times in the ingredient list," Nestle continues. "The AHA gets paid for such endorsements.  Let's hope the new recommendation encourages the AHA to stop doing this."

(Smart Start has 14 grams of sugar a cup = 56 calories of sugar, so it's a heck of a lot better than the above-mentioned toaster pastry, but -- point taken.)

An earlier post by Nestle provides a primer on sugar quotas. If that's not enough, you can watch her explaining the sugar shortage on "The Colbert Report."

[Updated 4:10 p.m.] And here's what Michael Jacobson, executive director of the consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest, had to say about the AHA's pronouncement: "I hope that the AHA's new report on sugars ends the debate over whether high-fructose corn syrup is especially evil. The AHA strongly recommends, as the federal government did several years ago, that Americans eat much less HFCS and regular sugar." 

Finally, is the country really going to run out of sugar? According to an L.A. Times article by Jerry Hirsch, "analysts say fears of empty supermarket shelves are overblown and that the gloomy outlook of big food companies is really part of a larger effort to pressure the government into dismantling sugar trade barriers."


-- Rosie Mestel

Photo: Less sugar? Maybe it wouldn't be so calamitous.

Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

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