What Does the FDA Think About Sugar?

Margaret Hamburg, FDA Commissioner. (US Mission Geneva: Flickr)

Dr. Margaret Hamburg, FDA Commissioner. (US Mission Geneva: Flickr)

Last week, the big story may have been the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s flip-flopping over funding Planned Parenthood. But coming in a close second (at least here at the health desk) was the call for regulating sugar in the same way alcohol and tobacco are. The argument was made by UC San Francisco researchers in the journal Nature. They laid out the science that sugar is behind many of the chronic maladies we see today–diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.

Today FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg was a guest on KQED’s Forum. Host Michael Krasny asked her if sugar should be removed from the FDA’s “GRAS” category–that’s for Generally Recognized as Safe. Not surprisingly, the Commissioner did not announce imminent action. She said she did have a chance to “look quickly at the initial report” and that “we’ll look very seriously at any new data that’s presented.”

In other words, nothing will be happening soon, just as researcher Robert Lustig expected when I talked to him last week. The commentary was an “opening salvo,” he said. “Nothing in public health changes overnight. It’s not possible to.”

Here’s the Commissioner’s complete response to Krasny’s question:

Sugar is one important area of nutrition where there’s enormous interest in deepening our understanding of the health risks and benefits. It’s an area where consumers want to know more about what’s in the food that they’re eating and where the FDA has a critical role to play in terms of both supporting and building on important new research insights and through our responsibilities for providing accurate information about the content of processed foods.

As the Commissioner continued speaking, she seemed in this next section to be choosing her words very carefully:

So, it’s an important area that sugar, along with other critical nutritional issues, such as sodium and saturated fats and overall calories all require strengthening our understanding of the science and really understanding individual and public health issues and linking that to what we do at the FDA.

Then she picked up steam again here:

But I have had a chance to look quickly at this initial report, I understand the request that’s being made. We’ll look very seriously at any new data that’s presented. In the meantime, consumers should be aware that nutritional information is provided on the back of processed food packages that enables them to look at the relative contribution of different types of sugars in the foods that they’re eating along with other nutritional components and it’s an opportunity to make more informed choices about the food they eat and the food they serve their families.

More:

The Trouble with Sugar on Forum, February 2, 2012

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