CONTACT: Maureen Storey, 202-965-6400

Added Sugars Meaningless When It Comes to Diet Quality

(WASHINGTON, DC) -- February 26, -- A study published today in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition by nutrition researchers from the Georgetown Center for Food and Nutrition Policy shows that added sugars are relatively unimportant when it comes to overall diet quality. The study examined data from the USDA's 1994-96 Continuing Survey of Food Intake by Individuals.

"Our study shows that focusing on added sugars to improve diet quality is impractical. It's like trying to bail water out of your bathtub with a teaspoon. Emphasizing added sugars just won't make a big difference and won't get the job done for improving diet quality," said Maureen Storey, Ph.D., Associate Director at the Georgetown Center for Food and Nutrition Policy and co-author of the study.

These data challenge the theory that added sugars displace servings of major food groups or key vitamins and minerals. The government defines added sugars as those that are added during the processing or preparation of foods, but not the naturally occurring sugars in fruits and milk. In reality, this distinction is meaningless to the body because added and naturally occurring sugars are the same chemically. The results show that added sugars have little to no association with the diet quality of all individuals over two years of age, children, or adolescents. Moreover, the weak association between added sugars and important food groups, vitamins and minerals demonstrate that very large, unrealistic changes in people's behavior would be needed to have any practical effect or be of clinical significance.

Furthermore, the study demonstrates that the importance of examining the entire diet of an individual, rather than a single ingredient like added sugars. An individual's diet quality is affected by all of their food choices, not simply by one or two foods or ingredients of foods. In fact, the model shows that age, gender, and other energy (calorie) sources such as fat, protein, other carbohydrates, and alcohol have stronger associations with diet quality than do added sugars.

The purpose of the study was to examine the association between added sugars intake and consumption of vitamins, minerals, and servings of foods in the USDA Food Guide Pyramid. The study looked at the effects for three population groups: 14,256 individuals over age two; 1,432 children ages 6-11; and 1,398 adolescents ages 12-19. Overall the association of added sugars with consumption of the major food groups and the vitamins and minerals examined, was inconsistent--sometimes negative, sometimes positive, or not at all--and varied with age group. Even the statistically significant effects were so small that they are unlikely to be of biological significance.

For children 6-11, added sugars were not linked to vegetable, fruit, lean meat, vitamin A, or calcium intake. Added sugars were positively associated with grains, vitamin C, iron, and folate intake, but negatively associated with dairy intake. The statistical model predicts that the effect of added sugars on servings of dairy foods is so small that children would have to consume an additional 588 grams of added sugars or 147 teaspoons of table sugar to displace one serving of dairy.

For adolescents 12-19, added sugars were not associated with vegetable, dairy, lean meat, vitamin A, folate, or calcium intake. In this age group, added sugars were positively associated with grains, vitamin C, and iron, but negatively associated with fruit consumption.

The study, conducted by Richard Forshee, Ph.D. and Maureen Storey, Ph.D. of the Georgetown Center for Food and Nutrition Policy in Washington, DC, was originally presented at the North American Association for Study of Obesity meeting in November, 1999. Partial funding for this study was provided through a grant from The Sugar Association, Inc.

For single copies of the article: Dr. Richard Caldwell, Journal of the American College of Nutrition, [email protected] tel:313-993-5226 fax: 313-577-8616

The Georgetown Center for Food and Nutrition Policy (the "Center") is a Washington, D.C.-based research and educational institution dedicated to advancing rational, science-based food and nutrition policy. Funding for the Center and its activities comes from private foundations, government, agribusinesses, and the broad-based food and beverage industries. Through its research, outreach, and educational programs, the Center examines complex, and oftentimes contentious, issues facing these stakeholders.


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