Ask anyone the amount of sugar they take in a day. It’s likely they will mention six or eight teaspoonfuls; going by the number of times they take tea. But what about beer, soda and other soft drinks? These contain more sugar, yet people consume these products most – putting their lives at risk of lifestyle diseases. For that reason, the World Health Organisation says the world is consuming too much sugar and has issued new guidelines aimed at stemming health problems related to high consumption of sugar. In its new recommendations on sugar intake, the UN health agency says that people should slash their intake to maximum of 12 teaspoons per day. This amount that can however be exceeded with just a single bottle of soda. The challenge therefore is how to observe the guidelines. It would require one to skip the breakfast fruit juice or a beer in the evening. The guidelines, released two week ago, finalise draft advice first released last year and are focused on the added sugars in processed food, as well as those in honey, syrups and fruit juices. The advice does not apply to naturally occurring sugars in fruit, vegetables and milk, since those come with essential nutrients. Reducing sugar intake has clear benefits for people, according to Francesco Branca, director of WHO’s nutrition department. “We have solid evidence that keeping intake of (added) sugars to less than 10 percent of total energy intake reduces the risk of overweight, obesity and tooth decay,” Branca said in a statement. Experts have long highlighted the dangers of sugar with studies showing that people who eat large quantities of the sweet stuff are at higher risk of dying prematurely from heart problems, diabetes and cancer, among other illnesses. Some experts said the 10 percent target was more realistic for Western countries than the lower target. They said the 5 percent of daily calories figure was aimed mostly at developing countries, where dental hygiene isn’t good enough to prevent cavities, which can lead to serious health problems. Initially, WHO had suggested an upper limit for sugar consumption of around 10 percent, but recommended 5 percent based on the presumed additional health benefits from cutting intake even further, though it said it had no solid evidence to support that. Rwanda situation Audrey Mutabazi, the director of Gasp, a food science consultancy based in Nyarutarama, Kigali, says that implementing the new guidelines on sugar use locally is near to impossible since people do not have the culture of reading ingredient labels on food products. He added that unless government launches a massive campaign to enlighten people on the need to check the quantity of food additives on labels, nothing much will ever change. Dr. Marie Aimée Muhimpundu, the head of non communicable diseases division at Rwanda Biomedical Centre, encourages people to take more of home prepared food/drinks, since there one can easily manage the amount of sugar added. “I partly blame high sugar consumption on laxity; some people actually know that certain industry-made foodstuffs contain a lot of sugar, but they are reluctant to stop consuming them,” she says. She also encouraged consumption of food products that have natural and harmless sugar, like pine apples, honey and carrots. Christopher Majyambere, the managing director of Litany Group, the manufacturer of Akeza Juice, says that since their product is too concentrated with sugar, a label on the container of the product advises a consumer to dilute it with a particular amount of water before use. But according to Tom Sanders, a professor of nutrition and dietetics at King’s College London who wasn’t part of the WHO guidelines, to get down to 5 percent, you wouldn’t even be allowed to have orange juice. He suggested it shouldn’t be that difficult to get sugar intake to 10 percent of one’s’ diet if they limit things like sugary drinks, cereals, beer, cookies and candy. The International Council of Beverages Associations echoed those concerns and said beverage makers can help people cut back on sugar through smaller portion sizes, as well as no- and low-calorie drinks and providing nutritional information on labels. Coca-Cola, for example, has been more aggressively marketing its ‘mini cans’ and has launched a reduced-calorie version of its namesake soda called Coca-Cola Life that’s sweetened with a mix of sugar and stevia, a natural sweetener. Companies have also been working on new technologies to reduce sugar. Sugar is just one of a number of ingredients that have come under attack, such as salt and cooking oil. However, WHO pointed out that when it comes to sugar, most people don’t realise how much they’re eating because it’s often hidden in processed foods not considered sweet. For example, one tablespoon of ketchup has about 4 grams (1 teaspoon) of sugar and a single can of soda has up to 40 grams (10 teaspoons). “The trouble is, we really do like sugar in a lot of things,” said Kieran Clarke of the University of Oxford, noting that the global taste for sugar bordered on an addiction. Clarke welcomed the new WHO guidelines but called on people to also consider getting more exercise to balance sugar. “If you do enough exercise, you can eat almost anything,” she said. “But it’s very hard to avoid large amounts of sugar unless all you’re eating is fruits and vegetables.” Rwanda’s sole sugar maker, Kabuye Sugar Works, produces about 10,000 tons per annum far below the market demand of about 80,000 tones. The shortfall is served by imports. A new company, Mauritius ACS Limited, expected to set up shop by the end of this year, will see additional 100,000 tons of sugar produced per annum, according to Alex Ruzibukira, the director general for investments at the Ministry of Trade and Industry.