U.S. cracks down on intake of added sugar, saturated fat

(Dave Bedard photo)

Chicago | Reuters — New U.S. dietary guidelines on Thursday urged Americans to cut their added sugar and saturated fat intake to less than 10 per cent of daily calories, but consumer advocates criticized the recommendations for not providing clear guidance on the need to reduce consumption of meat.

The government guidelines, which are issued every five years, are a roadmap for U.S. dietary policy. Some groups suggested the recommendations should have better reflected the World Health Organization’s view that processed meat can cause cancer.

Kari Hamerschlag, senior program manager with the advocacy group Friends of the Earth, said in a statement that the new guidelines by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture ignored strong scientific evidence presented by the agencies’ own advisory committee on the need for Americans to eat less meat for health, food security and environmental reasons.

“The administration has clearly put the financial interests of the meat industry over the weight of the science and the health of the American people,” Hamerschlag said.

Other health advocates lauded the guidelines, which aim to reduce obesity and prevent chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

“If Americans ate according to that advice, it would be a huge win for the public’s health,” said Michael F. Jacobson, president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said the recommendations were based on the latest scientific evidence, input from the public and other factors. For the first time, she said, they did not include a specific limit on dietary cholesterol consumption.

The North American Meat Institute, an industry group that represents companies including Cargill, Tyson Foods and Kraft Heinz, said the recommendations were an “affirmation of meat and poultry nutrition.”

World Health Organization experts, however, said in October that eating processed meats such as hot dogs, sausages and bacon can cause colorectal cancer in humans, and that red meat is also a likely cause of the disease. Meat companies rejected the findings.

Meat producers were pleased that the guidelines did not address the environmental impact of raising livestock, said Dave Warner, spokesman for the National Pork Producers Council.

“The advisory committee had talked about reducing consumption of processed meats and it doesn’t talk about that either,” he said.

The American Cancer Society expressed dismay that the guidelines did not take a stronger stand on the need to reduce meat consumption.

“The science on the link between cancer and diet is extensive. By omitting specific diet recommendations, such as eating less red and processed meat, these guidelines miss a critical and significant opportunity to reduce suffering and death from cancer,” said Dr. Richard Wender of the American Cancer Society.

The guidelines were more specific on sugar, encouraging Americans to keep consumption of added sugar, sweeteners added in the production process, below 10 per cent of daily caloric intake, while consuming more fruit and vegetables. In the past, the government has offered less specific recommendations on limiting sugar consumption.

The advice would translate to a sharp reduction in the consumption of sugary drinks, snacks and sweets for many Americans. Teenagers age 14-18 on average consume about 17 per cent of their calories in added sugar, according to the guidelines.

Those aged 14 and younger were advised to consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day.

A USDA website provides more information about added sugars. They do not include naturally occurring sugars such as those consumed as part of milk and fruits.

Reporting for Reuters by Julie Steenhuysen and Tom Polansek in Chicago and Caroline Humer and Chris Prentice in New York.

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