If you’re like the average American, you probably get about 16 percent of your total daily calories from added sugars, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
That’s roughly 320 calories per day, or 20 teaspoons of added sugars, based on a 2,000-calorie diet. For many people, those calories come from soda, candy, energy drinks, cakes, cookies and ice cream.
“Reducing the amount of added sugar we consume every day makes sense for everybody, whether or not they have a metabolic condition like diabetes,” says Amy Chang, MD, an endocrinologist at Scripps Clinic. “A nutritious diet that keeps us optimally healthy gets most of its calories from proteins and vegetables and healthy carbohydrates — not from consuming a lot of sugar.”
The 2014 draft guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO) propose a significant change. The agency’s recommendations aim to slash added-sugar consumption by two-thirds, to just 5 percent of daily intake. That’s equivalent to 100 calories per day – which is about six teaspoons of sugar.
“That’s less than one can of soda per day,” says Dr. Chang. “People who take sugar in their coffee or tea could be close to the healthy daily limit by noon if they don’t work on making modifications to their dietary habits.”
To help support nutritional decision-making, the FDA is also proposing new nutrition labels that would specifically break out naturally occurring sugars from added sugars on food packaging. The agency hopes this labeling might help consumers make more educated choices about the foods they purchase for themselves and their families.
When it comes to controlling added sugar intake, the best advice is to read labels. Be aware that processed and prepackaged foods can be loaded with sugar.
“Cooking from scratch is a powerful way to take control of your health, because you’re controlling what’s going into your body,” says Dr. Chang.
If you’re ready to make the cut, here are a few more tips to help you succeed.
1) Take it easy and slow.
When you try to change any habit, incremental change is more likely to stick than a drastic, cold-turkey approach. So try eliminating a couple of teaspoons a day at first and build on your successes.
2) Decide on a quota that’s right for you.
Any improvement is better than none. If you have questions about what’s an optimal goal for you based on your age, health and physical condition, talk to your primary care doctor.
3) Start skipping soda and gourmet coffee drinks.
These sources of sugar should be the first to go. Try switching to water — carbonated if you like. Add just a splash of fruit juice to liven it up, but remember that fruit juice is also a concentrated source of sugar.
4) Skip the power bars and smoothies.
Sugary snacks are high on the list of items that assault your system with sugar. Snack on whole fruits and veggies instead.
5) Stay out of the processed food aisles.
While foods in boxes, cans and cartons are convenient, they’re also likely chock-full of added sugar (not to mention sodium and fats). Shop the outside aisles of the grocery store which typically stock produce.
6) Take a healthy cooking class.
If your cooking skills are rusty, take a class to learn how to whip up quick and nutritious meals. Community centers, local colleges and even some grocery stores offer such classes.