Whether you’re one of those folks who is still working your way through leftover Halloween candy you bought (or pilfered from your kid’s stash) or have already begun laying in a supply of seasonal candies selected from the massive display of treats at your local retailer, chances are this time of year brings more than the usual amount of sugar into your life. How much sugar is too much? It depends on whom you ask.
This past March, the World Health Organization strongly recommended limiting free sugars to 10% or less of total caloric intake. Free sugars are defined by the WHO as those that are added to food products, but also those sugars naturally present in fruit juices, syrups, honey and fruit concentrates. Their rationale? According to a WHO press release, adults who consume less sugars have lower body weights, and “… research shows that children with the highest intakes of sugar-sweetened drinks are more likely to be overweight or obese than children with a low intake of sugar-sweetened drinks. The recommendation is further supported by evidence showing higher rates of dental caries (commonly referred to as tooth decay) when the intake of free sugars is above 10% of total energy intake compared with an intake of free sugars below 10% of total energy intake.” And it’s not just added weight that’s the problem (see my previous coverage on this topic). The WHO goes even farther, suggesting that even more health benefits would be achieved by cutting added sugar intake to 5% of total daily calories or less.
Last July, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed not only identifying the amount of added sugars in foods on the food labels, but also proposed basing the labeling of % Daily Value for added sugars on the 10% of total daily calories as well. Lately it seems that 10% is the general recommendation, although the American Heart Association suggests limiting added sugar calories to “no more than half your daily discretionary calorie allowance.” Not sure what that means? Discretionary calories are basically those that are “left over” after you’ve met all your nutritional needs; in other words, those you can use at your discretion for “extras.” According to the AHA, for women that is generally about 100 calories worth, and about 150 calories for men. That’s not much—roughly equal to about 6 teaspoons sugar per day for women and 9 teaspoons for men. Most adults in the U.S. currently get about 13% of their daily calories as added sugar.
How low can you go?
Cutting back on the sweet stuff can be extra tough this time of year. And if you keep your treat consumption to just a week or two—instead of the two months that many people tend to do—you’ll likely be just fine and you can work off any excesses with some extra exercise and getting back on track with healthy eating habits. Don’t sweat it so much that it decreases your holiday enjoyment. You can also, however, make a few little adjustments to your holiday treats to make them lower in sugar while still delivering good taste. Here are a few ideas:
- Swap out some of the sugar and sub in some fruit
- Practice portion control. For example, choose two of your favorite cookies and consume them slowly, enjoying every crumb, rather than absent-mindedly noshing away on a whole plate of treats. (Hint: keep cookies well packaged in the freezer—they’ll keep nicely and you’ll be less likely to munch down a whole bunch of them.)
- Make your sweets count. Holiday foods come around just at the holidays, so be sure to enjoy them. Skip the less special sweets altogether.