The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) recently issued a draft “Carbohydrates and Health” report urging Public Health England (PHE) to halve the current population guidelines for added sugar intake. An independent expert panel that advises government agencies on nutrition and dietary matters, SACN created a Carbohydrates Working Group at the request of the U.K. Food Standards Agency and Department of Health to clarify “the relationship between dietary carbohydrates and health.” To this end, the working group reviewed scientific literature on “the terminology, classification and definitions of types of carbohydrates in the diet,” as well as evidence concerning the effects of dietary carbohydrates on oral, colorectal and cardiovascular health.

After analyzing 225 prospective cohort studies and 403 randomized controlled trials, the working group concluded that although “total carbohydrate intake appears to be neither detrimental nor beneficial to cardio-metabolic health and colorectal health,” the consumption of added sugars increases energy intake as well as body mass index. The draft report thus recommends that regulators adopt a “free sugars” definition comprising “all monosaccharides and disaccharides added to foods by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, plus sugars naturally present in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices.” Noting that free sugars should not exceed 10 percent of total energy intake at an individual level, the report halves current population-based targets by setting a dietary reference value for free sugars “at a population average of around 5% of dietary energy for age-groups from 2.0 years upwards.” Increasing target intakes of starches, sugars contained within the cellular structures of foods and sugars contained in milk and milk products would offset this reduction in the population reference intake of free sugars.

“The evidence that we have analyzed shows quite clearly that high free sugars intake in adults is associated with increased energy intake and obesity. There is also an association between sugar sweetened beverages and type-2 diabetes,” said SACN Carbohydrates Working Group Chair Ian McDonald. “In children there is clear demonstration that sugar-sweetened beverages are associated with obesity. By reducing it to 5% you would reduce the risk of all of those things, the challenge will be to get there.”

Slated to review the report at its November 5 meeting, SACN will accept comments on the draft scientific consultation until September 1, 2014. See Wales Online, June 27, 2014.