February 23, 2013

Watchdog asks how much sugar in beverages is safe

The group says it wants the federal government to determine a safe level in sodas and energy drinks.

Palm Beach Post

PALM BEACH, Fla. - A consumer watchdog has asked the federal government to determine how much high-fructose corn syrup and sugar is safe in beverages from sodas to energy drinks.

The question comes at a time when some health officials are urging parents to stop giving sugary drinks to their children.

Soft drinks are so full of sweeteners that they are unsafe, says the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which last week asked the Food and Drug Administration to determine "safe levels" of added sugars for beverages and to set limits for manufacturers.

A typical 20-ounce bottle of soda contains about 16 teaspoons of sugar from high fructose corn syrup -- more than twice the daily limit recommended by the American Heart Association. The Center for Science in the Public Interest also wants caloric sweetener limits set for non-carbonated drinks and sweetened beverages such as sports, energy and fruit drinks and flavored milks.

"As currently formulated, Coke, Pepsi and other sugar-based drinks are unsafe for regular human consumption," said center Executive Director Michael Jacobson. "The FDA should require the beverage industry to re-engineer their sugary products over several years, making them safer."

The Center for Consumer Freedom, a nonprofit coalition supported by restaurants, food companies and consumers, called the Center for Science in the Public Interest's 54-page FDA complaint against sugar and high-fructose corn syrup "unnecessary and misguided."

Weight gain can't be blamed on soda or any specific food or beverage, but is due to simple mathematics, when the amount of calories consumed exceeds the amount of calories burned, the food industry group said.

The petition asks the FDA to determine what level of added sugars would be safe for use in beverages, and to require those limits to be phased in over several years. The petition did not propose a specific safe level, but notes that several health agencies identified two-and-a-half teaspoons -- 10 grams -- as a reasonable limit in a healthier drink.

The petition also asks the FDA to encourage the food industry to reduce sugar content in breakfast cereals, baked goods and other foods.

Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.-based registered dietitian Sandy Livingston said sweetened tea and fruit punch have the same amount of sugar as soda. Drinks with less sugar, especially with less high-fructose corn syrup, would be great for consumers' health, she said.

"I would like to see the beverage industry do this on their own without waiting for a mandate from the FDA," Livingston said.


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