Sugar Leaves Us Craving More
It’s easy to exceed those limits. With as many as 11 teaspoons of added sugar in one 12 oz. soda, a single serving is close to double most people’s daily sugar allowance.5 But sugar also is pervasive in our food supply. A leading brand of yogurt, for example, has 7 teaspoons of total sugars in a single serving, most of it added.
The sugar in one 12-oz soda is as much as in 1 orange + 16 strawberries + 2 plums.
Research also shows that, for some people, eating sugar produces characteristics of craving and withdrawal, along with chemical changes in the brain’s reward center, the limbic region.
Using brain-scanning technology, scientists at the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse were among the first to show that sugar causes changes in peoples’ brains similar to those in people addicted to drugs such as cocaine and alcohol.6,7 These changes are linked to a heightened craving for more sugar.8 This important evidence has set off a flood of research on the potentially addictive properties of sugar.9
Finding The Hidden Sugar In The Foods You Eat
Are you skipping cookies, cake or other sweet treats to reduce your sugar intake? Give yourself an A for effort, but youre probably still eating more sugar than you realize. The average American eats 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day, according to the American Heart Association. Youre likely not adding that much sugar to food yourself, so could you really be eating that much? Well, yes, says Erin Gager, R.D., L.D.N., a dietitian at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, because sugar is in a lot more foods than you may think.
How To Limit Sugar
If you wish to limit your sugar intake, the following tips may help:
- Check food packet labels for added sugar amounts.
- If some of your favorite foods contain high sugar levels, eat them in moderation. Cutting them out completely may make maintaining a balanced diet more difficult.
- Prioritize consuming whole foods instead of highly processed or preprepared foods.
- Limit your intake of sugar-sweetened beverages or replace them with water or drinks with no added sugar.
- Add flavor to your food with other condiments or ingredients, such as vanilla, orange, or almond extracts.
You can spot foods that do not contain high levels of added sugar by looking for labels that say no added sugar or unsweetened.
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Try To Get Most Of Your Sugar From Whole Foods
Focusing on whole foods will make a big difference in your ability to limit added sugar. The more sugar you consume, the more resistant you become to the sweetness of that food, Stark explains. So there’s a chance that chocolate bar won’t taste as good to a person who consumes lots of sugar as it does to someone who has sugar only moderately.
If you focus more on getting your sugar from whole foods, you can almost train your body to better appreciate the sweetened profile of a dish or treat. So basically, you can trick your body into fulfilling its sugar cravings with less.
Why Is Added Sugar Such A Concern
Our bodies dont need added sugar to survive. DiNicolantonio JJ, et al. . Added sugars drive nutrient and energy deficit in obesity: A new paradigm. DOI: 10.1136/openhrt-2016-000469 We get plenty of natural sugars from foods, including from fruit and dairy. And carbs convert to sugar, or glucose, in the bloodstream.
Piling on the added sugar can lead to insulin resistance, and that can drive a whole host of problems like diabetes and coronary heart disease. DiNicolantonio JJ, et al. . Added sugars drive coronary heart disease via insulin resistance and hyperinsulinaemia: A new paradigm. DOI: 10.1136/openhrt-2017-000729
Plus, just like booze, added sugar takes its toll on your liver. Eating it in excess puts you at a greater risk for developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease , even if youre not overweight. Jensen T, et al. . Fructose and sugar: A major mediator of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. DOI: 10.1016/j.jhep.2018.01.019
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Daily Recommended Amount Of Sugar
Sugar is a carbohydrate, an important nutrient as the body uses it for energy. As a result, natural sugars and small amounts of added sugars can fit into an otherwise balanced diet.
The AHA recommends the following maximum limits on daily intake of added sugar from food or beverages:
|6 tsp, or about 1 oz|
The AHA also recommends that children under age 2 should not have any added sugars at all.
The United States Department of Agriculture recommends further limiting sugar intake to less than 10% of a persons daily calorie intake. For example, according to this guidance, someone eating 2,000 calories daily would not consume more than 200 calories from sugar. This is around 50 g, or 1.7 oz, of sugar.
For additional health benefits, the World Health Organization suggests keeping added sugars to less than 5% of your daily calorie intake.
In addition to limiting added sugars, the USDA recommends that around 4565% of your daily calories come from carbohydrate foods. This can help allow space in your diet for other important nutrients, such as protein and healthy fats.
You can estimate your daily recommended calorie and nutrient intake using the USDAs online calculator.
Read more about carbohydrates, other nutrients, and eating a balanced diet.
Discretionary Calories And Added Sugars
You have a daily energy need the amount of calories your body needs to function and provide energy for your activities. Think of your daily energy need as a budget. Youd organize a real budget with essentials and extras . In a daily calorie budget, the essentials are the minimum number of calories you need to meet your nutrient needs.
Select low-fat and no-sugar-added foods to make good nutrient buys with your budget. Depending on the foods you choose and the amount of physical activity you do each day, you may have calories left over for extras that can be used on treats like solid fats, added sugars and alcohol. These are discretionary calories, or calories to be spent at your discretion.
A persons discretionary calorie budget varies depending on how physically active they are and how many calories they need to consume to meet their daily nutrient requirements. The American Heart Association recommends that no more than half of a persons daily discretionary calorie allowance be spent on added sugars.
Common sources of discretionary calories are fats, oils and alcohol. Fats are the most concentrated source of calories.
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Daily Sugar Intake A Lesson In Moderation
As you must have understood by now, sugar intake should always be practiced in moderation. Excessive sugar intake is associated with a myriad of diseases including obesity, cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, tooth decay and even certain cancers. In spite of these many drawbacks of ingesting too much sugar, the average sugar intake in the US was measured to 126.4 grams per day, according to a 2015 market research by Euromonitor. However in the quest of eating healthy, you should remember not to completely deprive yourself of sugar. You still need energy to function and if your blood sugar falls too low, it can cause trembling, sweating, palpitations, irritability and in severe cases a coma.
How Much Sugar A Day Is Safe
A national survey published in 2016 showed that American adults averaged at least 77 grams of added sugar per day. Children were found to eat a startling 82 grams. To put things in context, 4 grams of sugar equals 1 teaspoon.
These numbers are way above the daily limits recommended by the American Heart Association :
- Women: 25 grams
- Children ages 2 to 18: less than 24 grams
- Children under age 2: No added sugars recommended.
If you have diabetes, your healthcare provider will probably advise that you eat even less sugar than this because sugar is dangerous for people with diabetes.
In diabetes, your body doesn’t properly use insulin, the hormone that helps you absorb blood sugar so it can be turned into energy or be stored for later. Unable to process the sugar, you develop high blood glucose levels, which causes inflammation throughout the body.
When a person with diabetes consumes too much sugar, many body parts, including the cells that produce insulin, are affected. Regularly having too much sugar will, over time, cause these cells to wear out, so your body won’t be able to make insulin at all. This leads to more inflammation. Eventually, this inflammation can damage the heart, blood vessels, nerves, eyes, and kidneys.
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Labels On The Back Of Packaging
It’s important to look for the “of which sugars” figure on nutrition labels, which is part of the carbohydrate information.
While this does not tell you the amount of free sugars, it’s a useful way of comparing labels and can help you choose foods that are lower in sugar overall.
Look for the “Carbohydrates of which sugars” figure on the nutrition label.
Products are considered to either be high or low in sugar if they fall above or below the following thresholds:
- high: more than 22.5g of total sugars per 100g
- low: 5g or less of total sugars per 100g
If the amount of sugars per 100g is between these figures, that’s regarded as a medium level.
The “of which sugars” figure describes the total amount of sugars from all sources free sugars, plus those from milk, and those present in fruit and vegetables.
For example, plain yoghurt may contain as much as 8g per serving, but none of these are free sugars, as they all come from milk.
The same applies to an individual portion of fruit. An apple might contain around 11g of total sugar, depending on the size of the fruit selected, the variety and the stage of ripeness.
But sugar in fruit is not considered free sugars unless the fruit is juiced or puréed.
This means food containing fruit or milk will be a healthier choice than one containing lots of free sugars, even if the 2 products contain the same total amount of sugar.
You can tell if the food contains lots of added sugars by checking the ingredients list.
Key Sources Of Added Sugar
Sugary drinks are a prime source of extra calories that can contribute to weight gain and provide no nutritional benefits. Studies indicate that liquid carbohydrates such as sugar-sweetened beverages are less filling than solid food, causing people to continue to feel hungry after drinking them despite their high calories. They are coming under scrutiny for their contributions to the development of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic conditions.
- The average 20-ounce bottle of sugar-sweetened soda, lemonade, or iced tea contains about 65 grams of added sugar, often from high-fructose corn syrup. Thats the equivalent of 16 teaspoons of table sugar.
- If you were to drink just one 12-ounce can of a sugar-sweetened soft drink every day, and not cut back on calories elsewhere, you could gain up to 15 pounds over three years.
Be careful to read serving sizes of bottled beverages. Many are sold in 20-ounce bottles, but what is considered one serving of that beverage may still vary among manufactures. For example, a popular cola drink may list the whole 20-ounce bottle as one serving containing 65 grams of added sugar. Another 20-ounce bottle of lemonade may seem a better choice, showing only 27 grams of added sugar per servingbut the label states that one bottle contains 2.5 servings! Therefore, guzzling the whole bottle would give you almost 68 grams of sugar.
Cereals and other foods
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Reducing Sugar In Drinks
- Instead of sugary fizzy drinks or sugary squash, go for water, lower-fat milk, or sugar-free, diet or no-added-sugar drinks. While the amount of sugar in whole and lower-fat milk is the same, choosing lower-fat milk reduces your saturated fat intake.
- Even unsweetened fruit juices and smoothies are sugary, so limit the amount you have to no more than 150ml a day.
- If you prefer fizzy drinks, try diluting no-added-sugar squash with sparkling water.
- If you take sugar in hot drinks or add sugar to your breakfast cereal, gradually reduce the amount until you can cut it out altogether. Alternatively, switch to a sweetener.
The NHS Change4Life website has more tips to help you cut back on sugary drinks.
What Happens When We Eat Too Much Sugar
Consuming too much sugar on a regular basis means were eating too many calories, and if we dont use those calories as fuel, our body will store them as fat. This can lead to weight gain, and if this happens to our children, its likely they will carry the weight into their adolescent and adult years, potentially becoming overweight or obese.
Some people believe that diet affects childrens behaviour, and that children become hyperactive when they eat sugar, making them less likely to concentrate at school. This is a hotly debated topic, with many parents saying that what their child eats dramatically affects their childs behaviour. Scientifically speaking, there are no published studies to confirm this is the case. What we do know is that sugar can lead to tooth decay, which is the biggest cause of hospital admissions among children. Health experts, including the British Dental, Dietetic and Medical Associations have all lobbied the government for a sugar tax, which is now in place in the form of a Soft Drinks Industry Levy.
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How Can I Reduce My Sugar Intake
You dont need to avoid sugar altogether. Fruit, vegetables and dairy foods all contain naturally-occurring sugars, and are also sources of fibre, vitamins and minerals, such as calcium.
You should, however, avoid overconsuming added sugars. Check food labels, as above.
Sugar-sweetened drinks can make it easy to overconsume sugar because they dont help your body to feel full or satisfied.
To reduce added sugars, you could also:
- replace breakfast cereals containing dried fruit with fruit-free muesli or porridge
- cook eggs for breakfast
- buy plain, unsweetened yoghurt and add fresh fruit to sweeten it, if you wish
- make your own sauces with wine, vinegars, tomatoes, herbs, spices, onion or garlic
- flavour food with herbs and spices, such as chilli
- cut back on discretionary foods, such as cakes, biscuits, desserts and ice cream
- drink plain water, soda water or mineral water rather than sweetened drinks, sports drinks or iced tea
Added Sugars Intake In The United States
For the past 20 years, added sugars consumption has been on a significant decline in the United States.1-5 Looking at the past 15 years, people of all ages have been consuming less added sugars with mean intakes down by 20% .8,9
Daily added sugars intake can be presented in teaspoons , grams , calories or % of total calories. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans7 recommends daily intake of added sugars make up less than 10% of total calories. In a 2,000 calorie diet, this translates to: 12 tsp, 50 g, 200 kcals, 10% of total calories.
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How Does The Body React To So Much Sugar
So, whats a smart shopper to do? Its tempting to look to alternative sugars as a magical solution. Products made with honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar or turbinado sugar, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, and dextrose, for example, are perceived as healthier choices. Dont be fooled. Your body sure isnt! Too much sugar is too much, no matter the source.
It all comes down to how fast the sugars get absorbed. For example, your body spends more time digesting an apple because of the fiber content, so the natural sugar absorbs more slowly. On the flip side, the added sugar in soda arrives all at once in your system like a sugar bomb. All that extra sugar gets converted to calories much more quickly. Not so good for your system!
If youre looking for no calories, your best option might be a plant-based sweetener like stevia or monk fruit. These sweeteners are generally recognized as safe based on published research, a conclusion which has been reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration .
Kids And Sugar: A Recipe For Disaster
When it comes to how sugar affects children, there’s a lot of misinformation and confusion. People tend to associate sugar-laden treats with hyperactivity.
But is eating sugar the trigger for off-the-wall behavior? Or is this type of hyperactivity an unfortunate coincidence? Most important, do you really want to turn into the food police with your school-aged children?
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Whats A Safe Level Of Sugar
Unfortunately, Americans eat too much sugar. They dont seem to know where to draw the line, whether or not they have diabetes. A national survey published in 2016 showed that American adults averaged at least 77 grams of added sugar per day. Children were found to eat a startling 82 grams. To put things in context, 4 grams of sugar equals 1 teaspoon.
These numbers are way above the daily limits recommended by the American Heart Association :
- Women: 24 grams
- Children ages 2 to 18: less than 24 grams
If you have diabetes, your doctor will probably advise that you eat less sugar than the AHAs recommendations. With a typical diet, you can quickly reach your sugar limit at breakfast. A pastry and a couple of cups of sweetened coffee will likely be above whats safe for you.