How Much Sugar Is Too Much?

Added sugars are clearly harazdous to your health. But how much sugar is too much?

We all know sugar is unhealthy. Processed sugar contains zero valuable nutrition, and high sugar consumption is associated with obesity, diabetes, fatty liver disease, tooth decay, depression, yeast infections, and a host of other health problems. Sugar is inflammatory. Too much sugar is a huge health risk, no matter how you look at it.

The problem is that sugar is everywhere. It’s added to just about every processed food there is.

So let’s talk about how much sugar is “too much.”

How Much Sugar Is Too Much?

The US Center for Disease Control has set some guidelines for sugar consumption. While official recommendations are good, there are still a few problems:

  1. The guidelines do not always agree with each other, and
  2. I still think the “allowable” amount of added sugar is too much. The recommended maximum sugar intake is 10% of your calories – which for a 2000-calorie diet is 50 grams of added sugar each day! That’s too much.

“Added sugar” vs. “Naturally occurring” sugar

Before we talk about the “official” numbers (and why I don’t agree with them), you need to know the difference between “added” sugar and “naturally occurring” sugar.

Fruit and other healthy whole foods contain sugar. They also contain water, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients. They are good for you. Eating a lot of fruits and vegetables is a proven way to reduce your risks of many chronic diseases.

“Added sugars,” on the other hand, are a real problem. In 2013, the American Heart Association calculated that about 25,000 deaths per year were due to sweetened beverages. “Added sugars” are also in baked goods, candies, soups, sauces, and other processed foods. You can find many names for sugar on the ingredient list, often ending in “-ose” (names like detrose, glucose, fructose, sucrose).

So, “Total sugar” = “Naturally occurring sugars” + “Added sugars.”

With the new Nutrition Facts labels, both the US and Canada are implementing a %Daily Value for sugar.

In Canada, the %DV is based on 100 g/day of total sugar. Unfortunately, this number is large because it includes both naturally occurring and added sugars. The %DV is in-line with the Canadian Heart & Stroke Foundation’s recommendations of no more than 90 g of total sugars per day.

In 2008, the average daily total sugar intake in the USA was 76.7 grams per day; this is less than these two benchmarks. Yet, it doesn’t seem that people are getting healthier. I’d argue that 100 g per day total sugar is still too high.

The US government has decided on a maximum of 50 g of “added” sugars each day. Unfortunately, this is still more than the American Heart Association’s recommended maximum of 24 g/day added sugar for women, and 36 g/day added sugar for men.

How much sugar can you eat each day?

While these official numbers are a step in the right direction, they’re not what I would recommend.

For one thing, I’d ditch as many processed food as possible, regardless of their sugar content. Processed foods are not great for your health, period. I wouldn’t recommend eating your “daily value” of sugar from sweetened processed foods. I don’t recommend you even get close to the recommended 50 grams of “added” sugar per day. Get your sugar from whole, unprocessed fruits first. Make processed sugar a special treat, not a daily thing!

How to reduce your sugar intake

Here are some of my most popular ways to reduce sugar intake, so you don’t eat too much:

  • Eliminate (or at the very least, reduce) sugar-sweetened beverages. This includes soda pop, sweetened coffee drinks, sports drinks and energy drinks, and sweet tea. Instead of soda, drink mineral water flavored with fresh citrus. Or work towards drinking your coffee/tea “black” or with a touch of cinnamon or vanilla instead.
  • Bake your own desserts and baked goods so you’re in control of the ingredients. You can easily cut the sugar in a recipe in half. Or try these delicious, low-sugar dessert recipes.
  • Instead of a granola bar (or other high-sugar snack), try a handful of nuts, or veggies with hummus dip. These are easy grab-and-go snacks if you prepare them in a “to-go” container the night before.

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