Too Much Sugar?

The question keeps coming up.   How much sugar is bad for you?   So here’s your answer:  And it’s official!   Organizations and governments are (finally) declaring a maximum amount of daily sugar intake.

While this is a step forward, there are still a few problems.  One is that they don’t all agree with each other.  And, two, I don’t necessarily agree with them either.

We all know sugar is NOT a health food.   It isn’t full of nutrition, and excess consumption is not associated with great health.

The problem is that sugar is everywhere.   It’s naturally occurring.   It’s also added to just about every processed food there is.   And this “added sugar” is a factor in many chronic diseases we see today.   Sugar is inflammatory.   Too much is associated with weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and cavities.   Too much sugar is a huge health risk, no matter how you look at it.

Added sugar vs. naturally occurring sugar.   What do some of the officials say?

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 phytochemicals.   They’re good for you.   Eating fruits and vegetables is a well-proven way to reduce your risk for many chronic diseases.

“Added sugars,” on the other hand, are a concern.   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 sugar appearing on the ingredient list under many names, often ending in “ose.”   These include glucose, fructose, sucrose and so forth.

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

The “official” change is the new Nutrition Facts tables.   Previously in the U.S. and Canada, the amount of sugar was declared but not given a %DV (% daily value); this means, there was never a “benchmark” maximum daily value to use.   It was never stated how much sugar is too much.   Now, both countries are implementing a %DV 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 U.S. was 76.7 grams per day; this is less than the two Canadian 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.

In the U.S., the labels are changing, too.   “Total” sugars will not be declared but the labels will differentiate between naturally occurring and added sugars.   The recommendation will be for 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.

What is a better daily sugar goal?

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.   There are a ton of studies that show that processed foods are bad for your health.   Period.   I wouldn’t recommend eating your “daily value” of sugar from sweetened processed foods.   I don’t recommend even 50 g of “added” sugar per day.   Get your sugar from whole, unprocessed fruits first.

Second, you don’t need to max out your daily sugar intake. Try to reduce your sugar intake below these “official” amounts as an even better goal.

Tips to reduce your sugar intake

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

  • Reduce (or eliminate) sugar-sweetened beverages; this includes soda pop, sweetened coffee/tea and sports drinks, for example. If you must have something sweet tasting to drink, try fruit-infused water.   Or try drinking your coffee/tea “black” or with a touch of cinnamon or vanilla instead.
  • Reduce (or eliminate) your desserts and baked goods and bake your own. You can easily reduce the sugar in a recipe by half.   Or try some delicious (no added sugar) dessert recipes.
  • In place of a granola bar (or other sugary snack), try fruit, a handful of nuts or veggies with hummus. These are easy grab-and-go snacks, if you prepare them in a “to-go” container the night before.

Please let me know in the comments section below what your favorite tips are to reduce your sugar intake.  We’d love to hear from you.

Categories: Blog, Cancer, Cavities, Diabetes, Heart Disease, Inflammation, Mood, Sugar, and Weight Gain.

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