SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS)— It’s no secret that Americans have a love affair with sugar, but we’ve been hearing for years that the collective sweet tooth is dangerous, if not deadly.

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced new guidelines on Wednesday, aimed for a slimmer, healthier population with fewer dental cavities.

The WHO is recommending reducing sugar intake to no more than 12 teaspoons a day for adults, but says half of that would be even better.

Dr. Elizabeth Applegate, a nationally known expert on nutrition and fitness and the director of sports nutrition at UC Davis says the guidelines are not a radical suggestion.

“The American Heart Association a couple of years ago, actually urged an even lower sugar intake. I think the question is: ‘Can we do it?’” she said.

To clarify, we’re referring to “free sugars”, not the sugars found naturally in fresh fruits for example, but a better term might be added sugar, according to Applegate.

“Nothing’s free. When you buy a cookie, you have to pay for it. It’s added sugar in the cookie. That is things like table sugar, corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup; not necessarily the lactose milk sugar that you find in milk.”

Interestingly enough, in looking at the WHO data and how the U.S. compares to the rest of the world, you might assume that Americans have the biggest sugar problem, but it’s not so. According to their statistics, South Americans are the bigger consumers, but only by a slight margin over the U.S.

“I think really what we’re addressing here is the global issue of high-sugar intake. We love sweet tastes. We’re born with that. We evolve to where we are today by enjoying sweets. The challenge is we just have so many different forms from beverages, to wonderful desserts, to just little snack-y things and hidden added sugars in foods that it’s very pervasive and we really need to become aware of it and look for ways to cut it back.”

The effects of sugar on teeth and its direct correlation to their decay are well documented. “We want to save our teeth. It’s our only set we have until we leave this world. As far as obesity, we know that burning calories is very important. High-sugar foods oftentimes supply nothing else but a lot of extra calories,” she said.

Looking at labels of the foods you eat is a good and logical place to start when looking to cutback, but Applegate says the problem is, that’s not always reliable.

“They don’t state, ‘Added sugars’,” she says but mentioned that the Food and Drug Administration is looking into revamping how they label food.

Applegate advises that you know yourself best and the sweets you crave and when you tend to go for them, whether it be the cookie you reward yourself with at break time or if it’s the sweetened ice tea you might be sipping on during the day.

“Try to cut them in half. I’m not saying omit them altogether. That’s too big of a change. Try to eat more nutritious foods. Substitute in a fruit, which is going to have fiber and vitamins and a lot fewer calories, or vegetables.”

But it doesn’t end there. Applegate says it’s also very much about physical activity. “The reason people become diabetic or do gain weight is that they’re not burning the calories.”

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