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To review studies undertaken in South Africa (SA) which included sugar intake associated with dental caries, non-communicable diseases, diabetes, obesity and/or micronutrient dilution, since the food-based dietary guideline: “Use foods and drinks that contain sugar sparingly and not between meals” was promulgated by the Department of Health (DOH) in 2002.
Three databases (PubMed, Cochrane Library, and ScienceDirect), and SA Journal of Clinical Nutrition (SAJCN), DOH and SA Medical Research Council (SAMRC) websites were searched for SA studies on sugar intake published between 2000 and January 2012. Studies were included in the review if they evaluated the following: sugar intake and dental caries; sugar intake and non-communicable diseases; sugar and diabetes; sugar and obesity and/or sugar and micronutrient dilution.
The initial search led to 12 articles in PubMed, 0 in Cochrane, 35 in ScienceDirect, 5 in the SAJCN and 3 reports from DOH/SAMRC. However, after reading the abstracts only 7 articles from PubMed, 4 from SAJCN and 3 reports were retained for use as being relevant to the current review. Hand searching of reference lists of SAJCN articles produced two more articles. Intake of sugar appears to be increasing steadily across the South African (SA) population. Children typically consume about 50g per day, rising to as much as 100g per day in adolescents. This represents about 10% of dietary energy, possibly as much as 20%. It has been firmly established that sugar plays a major role in development of dental caries. Furthermore, a few studies have shown that sugar has a diluting effect on the micronutrient content of the diet which lowers the intake of micronutrients. Data from numerous systematic reviews have shown that dietary sugar increases the risk for development of both obesity and type 2 diabetes. Risk for development of these conditions appears to be especially strong when sugar is consumed as sugar-sweetened beverages.
Based on the evidence provided the current DOH food-based dietary guideline on sugar intake should remain as is.