How Much Sugar is Too Much?
Learning Goal: You will be able to determine how much sugar you can allow in your diet and will find ways to reduce the amount of sugar you are currently consuming.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the average adult American consumes 22 teaspoons (88 grams) of added sugar per day.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is currently drafting guidelines for “free” or “added” sugar intake in order to prevent dental caries (cavities) and to reverse the global obesity epidemic.
WHO defines “free sugars as all monosaccharides and disaccharides added to foods by the manufacturer, cook, or consumer, plus sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, and fruit juices.
It does NOT include sugars that are naturally present in fully unrefined carbohydrates such as brown rice, wholewheat pasta, fruit, vegetables, and milk.
The WHO’s guidelines are currently in the peer review phase, but it appears that they will recommend that free sugar compose less than 5% of your total energy intake. For the average person this is equivalent to around 25 grams (around 6 teaspoons) of sugar per day.
The WHO’s guidelines are similar to the AHA, which states that women should not consume more than 6 teaspoons or 24 g of sugar per day (~ 100 calories) and men no more than 9 teaspoons or 36 g (~150 calories).
To give you some perspective, one can of coke (12 fl oz) contains 39 grams of sugar. This already puts you over the daily recommendation. Furthermore, a large drink at most fast food restaurants contain at least 20 oz, so that would mean that you are drinking over 70g or about 18 teaspoons of sugar! That is a lot of sugar!
How To Protect Yourself
1) Eat more fruits and vegetables
Most health experts are not concerned about the sugars found naturally in fruits and vegetables, so if something is fresh and does not have a label, then you can assume that you can gobble it up.
You may be asking yourself, “Aren’t fruits high in sugar?… Why are they ok to eat?”
Fruits contain large amounts of water, fiber, and micronutrients like vitamins and minerals that your body needs to function. Also, the water and fiber make the sugar digest more slowly in your body, which means it does not cause your body to release hormones as fast as it would with pure sugar, like those found in sweet drinks.
This means fruits will also help you feel fuller. After you eat fruit, you will feel less hungry. Alternatively, drinks often make you want to eat more and do nothing to make you feel full.
Note: It is recommended that you eat more vegetables than fruit.
2) Do Not Eat Processed Foods
Many processed foods contain sugar in it, even if it is not obvious. Sugar can be hidden in bread, pasta, salad dressings, sauces, crackers, cheese, and much more.
A good example of hidden sugar in tomato sauce.
Here we have a can of store-bought Prego Tomato Sauce. As you can see, a 1/2 cup of the sauce contains 10g of sugar. You can also see that sugar was added to the sauce, as the second ingredient after the tomatoes themselves
It is true that tomatoes contain sugar naturally, and this label does not distinguish between natural and added sugar, but we can get an idea of how much sugar was added by looking at a tomato sauce that has no sugar in the ingredient list, and natural tomatoes.
Hunt’s canned tomato sauce (below) contains no added sugar, and we can see that the sugar content is lower.
The serving size on the label is smaller (1/4 cup) compared to the Prego (1/2 Cup), so we need to multiply the nutrition information by two to get a fair comparison.
(1/4 x 2 = 1/2) A 1/2 cup of Hunt’s tomato sauce, which contains no added sugar, has only 4 g of sugar (2 x 2g). That means that 6 grams of sugar were added to the Prego (10 – 4 = 6).
Even though no sugar was added, notice that the ingredient list (above) contain “Natural Flavor.” Who knows what is in that “natural flavor.” If you really want to know what you are eating, you need to make everything from unprocessed, whole, real, natural ingredients.
That would mean cooking the tomatoes and canning them yourself to make the sauce. A half cup of cooked tomatoes only contains 3 g of sugar according to Nutritiondata.self.com.
It is clear that less processed food has less sugar.
Here is a good recipe on how to prepare tomatoes for sauce.
3) Read Labels and Record
Always look at the ingredient list and nutrition label of the food you are buying, just like we did for the tomato sauce. Look to make sure that sugar is not listed as an ingredient.
Often times companies will try to hide sugar by using different names like high fructose corn syrup. Click here to find a list of commonly used names; the length of the list will shock you.
Even if you are allowing for some sugar, you want the sugar to be one of the last ingredients on the label, because the ingredients are listed by their abundance in the food by weight.
For example, in this box of Frosted Flakes, sugar is listed as the second ingredient! It is then followed by even more sugar in “High Fructose Corn Syrup!”
Also always look at the nutrition label for the sugar content. Not surprisingly one individual box of frosted flakes contains over half of your daily recommended added sugar intake.
It might be helpful to write down how much added or free sugar you are consuming throughout the day. You can do this with a google doc or a paper diary. This will help you become more aware of the sugar you are consuming and will help you make more informed decisions about what you are eating.
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