There’s no way to sugarcoat this: If you’ve been thinking about cutting down the amount of sugar you’ve been eating, that resolution just got a bit more challenging. The World Health Organization (WHO) has thrown down the sugar-filled gauntlet by recommending people aim to slash their sugar intake to below 5 percent of the total number of calories in their daily diet—that’s half of what WHO’s current guidelines recommended. According to WHO, 5 percent of your total calorie intake is equal to around 25 grams (that’s about 6 teaspoons) of sugar per day for an adult with a normal BMI. That’s less than the amount of sugar you’d find in a can of soda.
Although WHO’s new proposed guidelines still recommend that sugars make up less than 10 percent of your daily caloric intake, the organization is now pushing for people to lower that intake to under 5 percent per day because of sugar’s myriad health risks, from weight gain to cavities.
“Several studies have shown that excess sugar in the diet contributes to increased risk of heart disease, increased triglycerides, diabetes, weight gain and malnutrition,” says YouBeauty Nutrition Advisor Kristin Kirkpatrick, R.D. And a February 2014 study revealed that added dietary sugar ups the risk of death from heart disease.
Sugar also doesn’t do your beauty any favors since it wreaks havoc on your skin. In fact, the more sugar you eat, the more likely you are to have a dull and wrinkly complexion, according to Kirkpatrick. “Researchers think this occurs due to a process called glycation, in which sugar in the bloodstream attaches to proteins to form something called AGEs, or, advanced glycation end products,” she explains. “AGEs damage collagen and elastin, two structural proteins directly related to how great—or in this case, not so great—your skin is.”
The challenge to cutting down on sugar is that the sweet stuff doesn’t just lurk in the obvious places—namely soda, sweetened cereals, candies and baked goods—but is also hiding in surprising sources, such as in low-fat and fat-free salad dressings, frozen entreés, ketchup, crackers and flavored instant oatmeal. “Sugar is the master of disguise,” notes Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D., author of “Read It Before You Eat It.”
“It’s not always s-u-g-a-r. Sometimes it’s high fructose corn syrup or organic cane juice, which is still sugar.” The Food and Drug Administration’s proposed food label changes could make it easier to spot different sources of added sugar in your food. “Added sugars will finally be separated from natural sugars so you’ll be able to see which sugars are added by manufacturers, [as opposed to] natural ones like those found in milk, juice or fruit,” says Taub-Dix.In the meantime, aim to buy foods that contain less than 4 grams of sugar per serving, suggests YouBeauty Wellness Advisor Beth Ricanati, M.D. “Second, look in the actual list of ingredients. The first five are the most important as they comprise the bulk of what is in that particular item. Look for any words that end in ‘-ose.’ That’s code for sugar. Look for enriched flours or white flour—another code for sugar.”
Taub-Dix says that WHO’s guidelines will likely help encourage people to be more cognizant of their sugar intake. She recommends tallying how many grams of sugar you consume in one day to get a clear—and likely eye-opening—picture of your total daily sugar intake.
Here are some painless ways you can dial back on the sweet stuff:
• Use fruit or spices as sweeteners. Love your post-workout smoothie? Rather than a sugar-filled, store-bought version, try making your own using fresh or frozen pureéd fruit. You won’t miss the added sugar one bit. Or try making up for cutting back on sugar in your morning coffee or oatmeal with a dash of cinnamon. “Cinnamon adds a sweeter flavor and you won’t need much sugar at all,” says Taub-Dix.
• Make your own salad dressing. It’s easier than you think, not to mention healthier. Try this great-tasting balsamic and fig vinaigrette recipe that’s free of added sugar.
• Wean yourself off slowly. “We’ve gotten used to foods that are so sugary,” says Taub-Dix. “Tailor your taste buds a bit. Having less sugar helps you get used to having less.” In other words, your taste buds will eventually adjust. So rather than pouring in three packets of sugar in your morning coffee, try working your way down by only using two packets. Over time, you won’t miss it. “You’ll have greater compliance but also more enjoyment,” she says.Sure, sugar is a hard habit to kick. In fact, many of us are downright addicted to it. But try shooting for WHO’s proposed guidelines by reducing the amount of sugar in your daily diet and the results will be beautiful: Your health will improve, your waistline will shrink and your skin will look better than ever. Now that’s pretty sweet.