Current Dietary Guidelines for Sugar Intake May Be Based on Faulty Research

Scientists have reviewed the evidence and determined that current dietary guidelines for sugar are based on faulty research. While it’s known that sugar can be damaging in excess, modern nutritional guidelines might need to be reworked. The findings are in a paper that was just published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

Most modern nutritional guidelines recommend a diet low in sugar. Organizations don’t always agree, however, and these guidelines have ranged from a recommended 5% of calories to 25% of calories from sugar. These recommendations are from major organizations, including the Institute of Medicine and the World Health Organization. If nutrition guidelines are based on current science, there shouldn’t be so much disagreement on recommended sugar intake.

A team of researchers from McMaster University collaborated with The Hospital for Sick Children to perform a review of current sugar intake research. The aim was to determine whether or not current nutrition guidelines were based on solid research. The team found that as the recommended sugar intake guidelines varied, so did the reasons behind them. Some organizations were worried about dental problems while others focused on obesity and nutritional imbalances. The researchers couldn’t find science to back up the specific amounts recommended, however, and the few studies they found were low-quality. Some of the cited studies were outdated or had tiny sample sizes. Overall, it appeared that current sugar intake guidelines were mostly arbitrary and not backed up by science.

Although the research team found that sugar intake recommendations were not based on actual science, the authors emphasize that this doesn’t make sugar healthy. Instead, they recommend that health organizations reevaluate their guidelines so as not to cause public confusion. It’s also important that the public are told what to replace sugar with—in the past, recommended “low-fat” diets caused people to instead consume sugary simple carbohydrates. The team found very little reliable data on sugar intake, suggesting that there needs to be more research in that area.


Erickson et al. The Scientific Basis of Guideline Recommendations on Sugar Intake: A Systematic Review. Annals of Internal Medicine (2016).

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