Blog: Dean BestUK sugar recommendation: what does 5% look like?

Dean Best | 17 July 2015

A panel advising the UK government on health and nutrition has today (17 July) called for the guidance on sugar intake to be halved, putting further scrutiny on parts of the industry. Should the recommendation become official, translating the advice into easy-to-follow consumer messages will be vital. One organisation has already set out what a typical weekly meal plan could look like if following the call for free sugars to only account for 5% of daily energy intake.

The British Nutrition Foundation has developed a seven-day plan it says shows one way of meeting the recommendation on free sugars and a second for 30g of fibre each day, which was also included in the report from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition.

The charity said the plan - which you can see here - also seeks to meet other recommendations, including contributing less than 6g salt per day, under 10% of total energy as saturated fatty acids and meeting the food labelling reference intake for total sugars (which stands at 90g for adults).

It said the plan was "feasible" but added: "This dietary pattern is not typical of that of most people in the UK. Achieving the new and tougher SACN recommendations will, therefore, be a considerable challenge, and require a substantial change in consumer behaviour.

"Co-operation and collaboration will be required from many stakeholders, including the food industry, health professionals, policy makers and regulatory bodies to raise awareness of sources of free sugars and the benefits and sources of dietary fibre. Innovative food solutions from manufacturers and retailers may also be needed to help consumers adopt dietary patterns to meet these goals."

Turning the oil tanker that is the diet of an average UK shopper will require efforts from across industry, health professionals and government. Existing measures such as the UK government's Public Health Responsibility Deal have attracted criticism for involving industry too closely and putting too much emphasis on voluntary action. There have been calls for mandatory measures on sugar reduction and for fiscal intervention.

Public Health England, an executive autonomous agency of the Department of Health (which had asked the SACN committee to look into the issue) said the recommendation on sugars "represents a huge challenge to the population, the government and industry, as both young people and adults already exceeded the previous recommendation".

The agency has immediately called on parents to cut sugary drinks from their children's diet but is working on a range of other measures it says will assist consumers.

"Individual action is just part of the solution. We’re finalising a review of wider factors that influence how much sugar we consume, from marketing and promotions to reformulation and fiscal measures, so we can look at what we can all do to help the country lead healthier lives," Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said.

The theoretical weekly diet put forward by the British Nutrition Foundation certainly looks possible (and dare one say it quite tasty) but, in all seriousness, would require significant changes in eating habits.

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