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David Berg and David Roche, Moorhead: Bias clogs heart group's call to limit sugar

By David Berg and David Roche MOORHEAD -- Every person has a responsibility to be well-informed about nutrition, to help them lead a long and healthy life. But the American Heart Association's recent statement, "Dietary Sugars Intake and Cardiova...

By David Berg and David Roche

MOORHEAD -- Every person has a responsibility to be well-informed about nutrition, to help them lead a long and healthy life. But the American Heart Association's recent statement, "Dietary Sugars Intake and Cardiovascular Health," is not based on scientific findings and will serve only to mislead Americans.

The AHA panel reviewed selected evidence related to sugars intake and contributing factors to heart disease such as blood pressure, blood fats (cholesterol) and obesity. The paper found no conclusive link between sugar intake and any of these contributing factors to heart disease.

We believe that the AHA recommendations are based primarily on biases of the panel and are not the result of a scientific finding. This is evident when the panel makes non-conclusive statements to support their recommendations: "Hence, it is likely that weight gain over the same period must be related in part to increased intake of added sugars, even though research tools thus far have been insufficient to confirm a direct link."

The fact is, every major scientific review removes blame for sugar as the cause of any lifestyle disease, including heart disease and obesity.

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In 2002, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine concluded that scientific evidence did not support the establishment of an upper level intake recommendation for sugars. This finding recently was reaffirmed by the European Food Safety Authority, which stated, "Available data do not allow for the setting of an upper limit for total or added sugars."

In other words, no authoritative scientific body ever has found a public health need to set an upper level intake for sugars.

Sugar has been a part of our diet for centuries. It is all natural and contains just 15 calories a teaspoon. Sugar is used in our food supply not only because it provides sweet taste, but also because it provides essential functional properties in food formulation.

Sugar also makes many healthy foods more enjoyable, which encourages us to consume key nutrients that we need to maintain our health.

By its own admission, the AHA paper reports that many sugar-containing foods help contribute to the intake of key vitamins and minerals: "In fact, when sugars are added to otherwise nutrient-rich foods, such as sugar-sweetened dairy products like flavored milk and yogurt and sugar-sweetened cereals, the quality of children's and adolescents' diets improved; and in the case of flavored milks, no adverse effects on weight status were found."

This misplaced emphasis on sugar-containing foods is an oversimplification of Americans' current nutritional challenges. It can lead only to the same failed outcome as the simplistic low-fat messages of the 1990s.

Regarding obesity, the AHA paper states, "...it is unlikely that a single food or food group is primarily causal."

The AHA paper on sugar contains many contradictory statements. Since it provides no evidence directly linking sugars intake with any of the causes of cardiovascular disease or obesity, we all should question why the AHA would release this inaccurate and misleading document.

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Berg is president and chief executive officer of American Crystal Sugar Company and a board member of the Sugar Association.

Roche is president and chief executive officer of Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative. He is also a board member and former chairman of the Sugar Association.

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