Cutting back on the amount of sugar you take in can help adults lose weight according to a new study appearing in BMJ that calls for this approach to become part of the strategy used to fight the global obesity epidemic. While we know that sugar intake is one of the many reason for carrying too much weight, a team in New Zealand found the effects of limiting sugar on body weight are pretty substantial (pardon the pun).
Sugars in the diet are either a natural part of a food, such as the fructose in fruit and lactose in milk. Added sugars are ones that are put in foods during their preparation or processing, or added at the table. The major source of added sugars are regular soft drinks, candy, cakes, cookies, pies and fruit drinks. Dairy desserts and milk products, as well as other grains also have added sugars. With all the ways to get added sugars, it’s no wonder that many of us take in more sugars than we realize.
Free sugars are the ones added to foods by the makers, the cooks or consumers themselves. These sugars are also found in honey, syrup and fruit juice. The World Health Organization (WHO) calls for cutting the amount of free sugars we take in to less than 10% of total calorie intake for the day.
The research on sugar and weight loss involved examining 71 studies (including 30 trials where participants were assigned a sugar intake intervention or no intervention), Jim Mann of the human nutrition department at the University of Otago and colleagues in New Zealand found that cutting back on the free sugars for up to an 8 month period was linked to an average weight loss of 1.8 pounds. Increasing free sugar intake was linked to a weight gain of 1.7 pounds.
The team does agree that the findings were limited by the fact that few of the studies analyzed as part of the project lasted over 10 weeks. That’s not a lot of time. Still they say advice that relates to decreasing sugar intake is a relevant piece of an overall strategy to bring down the many risks of being overweight or obese. The effects of free sugars on children are less clear, but the authors note that those children who have a higher sugar intake are also at greater risk of being either overweight or obese.
In response to the findings, U.S. experts believe limiting the intake of sugar-sweetened drinks by taxing these beverages, putting restrictions on ads directed toward kids and limiting the serving sizes could all be helpful. In an editorial published along with the study, Walter Willett, a professor in the department of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, suggests the need for education programs, improvements in the menus at both schools and workplaces, as well as nutrition programs for those with low incomes.
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The American Heart Association calls for adults to limit the amount of added sugars you take in to no more than half your discretionary calories for the day. For most, that’s no more than 100 calories a day for women, 150 calories a day for men. The AHA makes no distinction among added sugars; they all need to be limited to maintain a healthy body, weight and heart.
You can also limit how much sugar you take in by looking at the Nutrition Facts panel on the foods you buy. The line for sugars has a place for both natural and added sugars, as well as total grams. There are 4 calories for each gram of sugar, so if a product has 15 grams of sugar, that’s 60 calories just from the sugar, never mind the other ingredients.
Also look at the list of ingredients on the package. Besides names that end in “ose” (maltose or sucrose) other things you might see include high fructose corn syrup, molasses, cane sugar, corn sweetener, raw sugar, syrup, honey or fruit juice concentrates.
To your good health,