Heart group draws hard line on sugar intake

CHICAGO Mon Aug 24, 2009 8:06pm EDT

An ice cream vendor waits for customers at Walden pond in Concord, Massachusetts October 12, 2008. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

An ice cream vendor waits for customers at Walden pond in Concord, Massachusetts October 12, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Brian Snyder

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - Americans need to cut back dramatically on sugar consumption, the American Heart Association said on Monday in a recommendation that is likely to rile food and beverage companies.

The group said women should eat no more than 100 calories of added processed sugar per day, or six teaspoons (25 grams), while most men should keep it to just 150 calories or nine teaspoons (37.5 grams).

That's far below the 22 teaspoons (90 grams) or 355 calories of added sugar consumed by the average American each day, according to a 2004 government survey.

The researchers took particular aim at the estimated $115 billion U.S. market for soft drinks, which Johnson said represent the No. 1 source of added sugars in the American diet.

"For the first time we've created specific recommendations about the amount of sugars that can be consumed in a heart-healthy diet," Rachel Johnson of the University of Vermont, lead author of the policy statement published in the journal Circulation, said in a telephone interview.

Johnson said U.S. labels on packaged foods do not distinguish between naturally occurring or added sugars, but she said anything labeled "syrup" in the ingredients list is likely an added sugar.

Too much sugar not only makes Americans fat but also is a key culprit in diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, according to the report.

U.S. Department of Agriculture dietary guidelines recommend taking in less food or drink with added sugars but do not give specific calorie limits.

The Sugar Association, a U.S. sugar industry group, said in a statement it was "very disappointed" with the report, which infers a direct correlation between sugar intake and heart health, and noted that "very few of the cited references by the AHA are directly related to sugars and heart health impacts."

PepsiCo and Coca-Cola Co referred calls to the American Beverage Association, while Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc officials did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

The American Beverage Association said sugar-sweetened drinks do not pose a particular health risk.

"Like many foods, soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages are a source of calories, but in and of themselves, they are not a unique risk factor for obesity or other negative health outcomes -- including heart disease," Dr. Maureen Storey, a spokeswoman for the group, said in a statement.

LIQUID CALORIES

While the heart experts said no single food or food group is to blame for the nation's obesity epidemic, they said many studies have shown a correlation between higher intake of sweetened beverages and obesity.

"Over the past 30 years, total calorie intake has increased by an average of 150 to 300 calories per day, and approximately 50 percent of this increase comes from liquid calories (primarily sugar-sweetened beverages)," the report reads.

Daily consumption of sweetened soft drinks rose 70 percent between 1970 and 2000. One 12-ounce (0.35 liter) can of regular soda contains roughly 130 calories, which exceeds a woman's daily discretionary sugar budget.

Johnson said sweetened foods and beverages displace more nutritious foods and beverages for many people.

The food industry often blames increases in obesity on a lack of exercise. Johnson said if people want to eat more sweet treats, they need to increase their sugar budget by becoming more physically active.

Storey of the beverage association said both obesity and heart disease are complex problems with no single cause.

"What matters most is balancing the calories from the foods and beverages we eat and drink with regular physical activity," she said.

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen)

(Additional reporting by Martinne Geller in New York and Brad Dorfman in Chicago; Editing by Maggie Fox, Xavier Briand and Carol Bishopric)

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