“There’s no question we consume too much sugar,” said Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). “It is not only bad for your teeth, it’s associated with increased risk of diabetes, hypertension, and is bad for your heart.

Hu spoke at the HSPH panel “Sugar, Salt and Supplements,” just weeks after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it’s first overhaul of food-product labels in 20 years.

The revamped labels will provide consumers with nutrition facts, calorie counts in boldface type, and realistic serving sizes. They will also disclose how much sugar manufacturers add to their products – all towards helping the public make healthier eating choices.

Panelist Dariush Mozaffarian, associate professor of cardiovascular health at Harvard Medical School warned that dietary focus should also be targeting “poor-quality carbohydrates” like refined grains, potatoes and sugar.

“Fifty percent of our calories come from poor-quality carbohydrates. Mary Poppins said a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. There’s a lot of good, healthy, whole-grain products with a little bit of sugar added…. if we just use sugars (to gauge a product), we could get misled,” said Mozaffarian.

Another panelist, Joann Manson, professor of epidemiology at HSPH believes new food labels will prove critical to pressuring food manufacturer’s to reduce the levels of added sugar and salt. “When consumers are making choices, it’s so important to have something that’s easily visible and can see differences,” she said. “This will put pressure on companies to develop foods with lower sugars and sodium.”

Some people try to make up for their bad eating habits by taking multivitamins and supplements like fish oil. Manson said everyone needs vitamin D, and the recommended adult guideline is 800 IUs with calcium for bone health. She said the jury is still out on whether greater amounts might prevent cancer and cardiovascular disease.

“There will never be a replacement for a healthy, well-balanced diet,” Manson said.       Harvard Gazette   3/18/14

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