Image Courtesy of Marion Nestle

At last, the American Heart Association (AHA) has done something useful. It advises eating less sugar. Americans eat way too much, it says, a whopping 22 teaspoons a day on average. Let's work this out. A teaspoon is 4 grams. A gram is 4 calories. So the 275 calories in that default 20-ounce soda you picked up from a vending machine come from nearly 70 teaspoons(!) of sugar.

If you have trouble maintaining weight, soft drinks are an obvious candidate for "eat less" advice. Neither the Wall Street Journal (in which I am quoted) nor the New York Times say much about how soft drink manufacturers are reacting to this recommendation, but it isn't hard to guess.

Here, for example, is what the industry-sponsored American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) has to say:

The study targets added sugars as the main culprit of dietary excess, but since "U.S. labels on packaged foods do not distinguish between naturally occurring or added sugars," it is difficult to tell the difference. However, "our bodies can't tell the difference either," says ACSH's Jeff Stier. "Natural and added sugars are nutritionally the same. Added sugar causes obesity as much as the orange juice promoted by the American Heart Association causes obesity [e-mail newsletter, August 25, 2009].

This is the first time the AHA has seriously weighed in on sugar. I find this especially interesting because the AHA has a long history of endorsing sugary cereals (as I discuss in Food Politics and also in What to Eat). In the example above, the AHA's endorsement is in the lower left corner. This product has sugars of one kind or another listed 9 times in the ingredient list.

The AHA gets paid for such endorsements. Let's hope the new recommendation encourages the AHA to stop doing this.