New EU report: “Consumption of added sugar should be as low as possible”
It is not possible to set a safe limit for how much sugar we can eat. That conclusion is reached by the European Food Safety Authority, EFSA, after examining the science of sugar and health. Research shows that the more added sugar we get in us, the higher the risk of cavities, obesity and type 2 diabetes.
A few years ago, the Nordic countries asked EFSA, the European Food Safety Authority, to review the science of sugar. Specifically, they wanted an answer to an important question: how much sugar can we consume without risking our health?
After reviewing around 30,000 different scientific studies, EFSA is now finished with this mammoth work. However, the answer in their report is disappointing: there is no limit to safe sugar intake. The relationship between sugar and ill health seems to be linear. The more sugar we eat, the worse it is for our teeth and our well-being. EFSA writes:
“Based on the risk of developing chronic metabolic diseases and cavities, the consumption of added and free sugar should be as low as possible.”
Hardest verdict on sugar ever
This is without a doubt the harshest verdict on added sugar ever. For a long time, our authorities have said that a maximum of 10 percent of all calories may come from added sugar, otherwise we get too little vitamins and other nutrients. But in 2014, the WHO took this one step further. They said that we would rather reduce our sugar intake to a maximum of 5 percent of calories, a limit so low that many Swedes have already passed it by breakfast.
EFSA’s conclusion is thus even stricter, but they do not issue any recommendations. Their review should instead serve as a knowledge base that different EU countries can use as a basis when developing dietary advice for their populations.
Fruit juices can also contribute to ill health
Like the WHO, EFSA believes that we should also limit free sugar from juice and honey. Our consumption of juice and juice concentrate has increased sharply in recent years. According to the EFSA report, fruit juices can probably contribute to both type 2 diabetes and gout (read more about gout via this link).
At the same time, the review shows that there are great uncertainties in the science of sugar. Although it is well established that soft drinks, juices and other sugary drinks cause obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, there is a lack of knowledge about other sugar-containing foods. EFSA is also calling for more knowledge about the health effects of consuming lower doses of sugar – the amount that is within the scope of the current dietary guidelines. At present, there are no good studies on this.
EFSA’s final report on sugar will be ready by the end of 2021
The report EFSA is now publishing is a draft that has been sent out for consultation. Various organizations, companies and experts have the opportunity to provide feedback on the report to EFSA before 30 September.
On 21 September, EFSA will also hold a seminar where they will explain their positions, answer questions and receive feedback. I have signed up and hope to participate, because I would like to hear how the food industry’s various lobbying organizations react to EFSA’s conclusions.
It is difficult for us consumers to keep track of sugar
EFSA’s will publish the final version of its report towards the end of the year. It will then be used as a basis for our Nordic business recommendations, which will be updated next year. It will be exciting to see if the report leads to any changes in the dietary advice. Regardless, there is a need for a boost when it comes to the labeling of our foods. It is basically impossible for us consumers to keep track of how much added sugar and juice we get in us. Sugar is the third most common ingredient in our foods. Eating as little sugar as possible is therefore quite complicated and requires that we read very carefully, the ingredient lists of whatever we buy and eat.
To help consumers see all the stores’ sugar bombs, we developed the Sugar Check last year. It is a label of the amount of added and free sugar in food. To date, the label has been introduced in about fifteen stores around the country. Let’s hope that there may be more soon. If we are to reverse the epidemic of obesity and type 2 diabetes, it must be much easier for us consumers to make sugar-smart choices in our everyday lives.
This is a guest post. Any opinions expressed are the writer’s own.