How Much Sugar Is Too Much
As modern grocery shoppers, we try to be engaged and knowledgeable about nutrition. From salt to sugar, the movement is on to regain control of what we put on the table. But theres a lot of confusing information to wade through. Studies show that 80% of shoppers come across conflicting nutritional data and 59% doubt the choices theyre making for their families. What consumers arent confused about, though, is the need for a healthy change.
American adults consume an average of 77 grams of sugar per day, more than 3 times the recommended amount for women. This adds up to around 60 pounds of added sugar annually thats six, 10-pound bowling balls, folks! The numbers are even worse for children. American kids consume 81 grams per day, equaling over 65 pounds of added sugar per year. Think of it this way children are ingesting over 30 gallons of added sugars from beverages alone. Thats enough to fill a bathtub! Wheres all this added sugar coming from?
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.
How Much Is Too Much
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar a day for women and 9 teaspoons for men. But the average American gets way more: 22 teaspoons a day . Itâs easy to overdo. Just one 12-ounce can of regular soda has 10 teaspoons of sugar — and no nutritional benefit.
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Labels On The Front Of Packaging
There are labels containing nutrition information on the front of some food packaging.
This includes labels that use red, amber and green colour coding, and advice on reference intakes of some nutrients, which can include sugar.
Labels that include colour coding allow you to see at a glance if the food has a high, medium or low amount of sugars:
- red = high
- amber = medium
- green = low
Some labels on the front of packaging will display the amount of sugar in the food as a percentage of the RI.
RIs are guidelines for the approximate amount of particular nutrients and energy required in a day for a healthy diet.
The reference intake for total sugars is 90g a day, which includes 30g of “free sugars”.
For more information, see Food labels.
How Much Sugar Should We Eat
The World Health Organization recommends a maximum intake of sugars of less than 10% of total energy intake for adults and children, and less than 5% for better health, excluding sugars found in whole fruits, milk and vegetables.
That is about 50g, or around 12 teaspoons per day . Further reductions to below 5% of the total energy intake could provide additional health benefits.
The infographic below illustrates some common everyday foods and their sugar content.
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What’s A Safe Level Of Sugar
Unfortunately, Americans eat too much sugar. They don’t 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 :
- Men: 36 grams
- 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 AHA’s 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 what’s safe for you.
Harm: High Blood Pressure
Usually, salt gets the blame for this condition, also called hypertension. But some researchers say another white crystal — sugar — may be a more worrisome culprit. One way they believe sugar raises blood pressure is by making your insulin levels spike too high. That can make your blood vessels less flexible and cause your kidneys to hold onto water and sodium.
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Calculating Your Daily Allowance
If you don’t have diabetes, the AHA recommends limiting calories from sugar to 10% of your total calories. One gram of sugar equals 4 calories.
For a 2,000-calorie diet, that means you can have up to 50 grams of sugar from all sources per day. It’s worth noting that the World Health Organization recommends an even lower percentage: no more than 5% of total calories from sugar.
If you have diabetes, it’s important to work with your doctor to figure out what’s right for you. Ask what percentage of your total daily calories should come from sugar. This will help you to make adjustments if you are obese and need to cut calories or if you are underweight and need to increase calories.
How To Reduce Sugar Intake
Reducing sugar intake is not as hard as you think, but if youre addicted, it can take some practice and commitment just like any change. The American Heart Association shares some great tips on how to reduce sugar. Put these ideas into practice on a regular basis, and in no time, you will reduce sugar and reduce your risk of diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome and obesity.
- Remove sugar, syrup, honey and molasses from your cupboard and table.
- If you use sugar in your coffee, tea, cereal, pancakes, etc., cut back. Use half the amount you usually use to start and even less over time. And no artificial sweeteners!
- Drink water instead of flavored beverages and juices.
- Buy fresh fruits instead of fruits that are canned, especially those in syrups.
- Instead of adding sugar to your morning cereal, use fresh bananas or berries.
- When baking, cut the sugar by one third. Just try it! You probably wont even notice.
- Try using spices, such as ginger, cinnamon or nutmeg, instead of sugar.
- Try unsweetened applesauce instead of sugar in recipes.
- Consider pure stevia, but use in moderation. Its very sweet, so you dont need much.
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Tooth Decay And Sugar
Sugar is one of the main causes of tooth decay.
To prevent tooth decay, reduce the amount of food and drinks you have that contain free sugars such as sweets, chocolates, cakes, biscuits, sugary breakfast cereals, jams, honey, fruit smoothies and dried fruit and limit them to mealtimes.
The sugars found naturally in fruit and vegetables are less likely to cause tooth decay, because they’re contained within the structure.
But when fruit and vegetables are juiced or blended into a smoothie, the sugars are released. Once released, these sugars can damage teeth.
Limit the amount of fruit juice and smoothies you drink to a maximum of 150ml in total per day, and drink it with meals to reduce the risk of tooth decay.
Squashes sweetened with sugar, fizzy drinks, soft drinks and juice drinks have no place in a child’s daily diet.
If you’re looking after children, swap any sugary drinks for water, lower-fat milk or sugar-free drinks.
Sugar How To Cut Down
Did you know that fruit juice can contain a similar amount of sugar per 100ml as a fizzy drink? And at 7 cubes per can that’s the sum total amount of sugar an adult should be consuming in an entire day!
Eating sugar in excess is not healthy and new guidelines in the UK recommend that we reduce the amount of sugar in our diets. Sugar, like salt, hides in much of the processed foods we buy, so we can consume too much without even knowing it.
Too much sugar means too many calories which leads to weight gain. This all adds up to increased risk of obesity and serious illnesses such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.
Based on current trends, if we don’t cut down on sugar, 1 in 3 people will be obese by 2034.
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Health Effects And Recommendations
Excess consumption of sugars is a concern, as it can lead to tooth decay and excess calorie consumption. Excess calories lead to overweight and obesity. Obesity is a risk factor for chronic diseases such as:
- type 2 diabetes
- some forms of cancer
- cardiovascular disease
Health Canada recommends a healthy eating pattern where most sugars come from fruit, vegetables and unsweetened dairy products such as plain milk or yogurt. Other sources of sugars can increase calories without benefiting our health.
Need To Reduce Added Sugars
Although sugars are not harmful in small amounts to the body, our bodies dont need sugars to function properly. Added sugars contribute additional calories and zero nutrients to food.
Over the past 30 years, Americans have steadily consumed more and more added sugars in their diets, which has contributed to the obesity epidemic. Reducing the amount of added sugars we eat cuts calories and can help you improve your heart health and control your weight.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting the amount of added sugars you consume to no more than half of your daily discretionary calorie allowance. For most American women, this is no more than 100 calories per day and no more than 150 calories per day for men .
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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.
Added Sugars Consumption In Children And Young Adults
- In 20172018, the average daily intake of added sugars was 17 teaspoons for children and young adults aged 2 to 19 years.4
- Among 2- to 5-year-olds, the average intake was 13 teaspoons for non-Hispanic Black children, 12 teaspoons for non-Hispanic White children, 11 teaspoons for Hispanic children, and 7 teaspoons for non-Hispanic Asian children.
- Among 6- to 11-year-olds, the average intake was 19 teaspoons for non-Hispanic Black children, 18 teaspoons for non-Hispanic White children, 16 teaspoons for Hispanic children, and 12 teaspoons for non-Hispanic Asian children.
- Among 12- to 19-year-olds, the average intake was 20 teaspoons for non-Hispanic Black young people, 20 teaspoons for non-Hispanic White young people, 15 teaspoons for Hispanic young people and 14 teaspoons for non-Hispanic Asian young people.
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How Much Is Okay
Expert panels worldwide have made consistent recommendations on daily sugar intake. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day for women and 9 teaspoons for men.1 The AHA limits for children vary depending on their age and caloric needs, but range between 3-6 teaspoons per day.
That is in line with the World Health Organization‘s recommendation that no more than 10% of an adult’s calories and ideally less than 5% should come from added sugar or from natural sugars in honey, syrups and fruit juice. For a 2,000-calorie diet, 5% would be 25 grams.
Limit daily sugar to 6 tsps for women, 9 tsps for men.
Yet, the average American consumes 17 teaspoons every day.2 That translates into about 57 pounds of added sugar consumed each year, per person.3
Children and teens are particularly at risk. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting total intake of discretionary calories, including both added sugars and fats, to 5% 15% per day. Yet children and adolescents in America obtain about 16% of their total caloric intake from added sugars alone.4
Healthy Foods And Beverages In Public Places
Improving the nutritional quality of foods and beverages in public places is a low-cost public health strategy that can help to change social norms and create healthier food and beverage environments. This can help to model and reinforce healthy eating in other spaces and at home. Most public spaces have health promoting services that are undermined and contradicted by the sale of unhealthy foods.
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Sugars In The Food Supply
The packaged foods available today are sweeter than before. According to Basu et al., sugar supply has risen across the globe from an average of 218 kilocalories per person per day in 1960 to over 280 kilocalories per person per day by 2013. Assuming a food wastage rate of 30%, these consumed calories exceed the recommended daily upper limit of 150 kilocalories per man and 100 kilocalories per woman by the American Heart Association. Much of this is in the form of high fructose corn syrup within SSBs however, added sugar is found throughout the food supply .
Best: Share The Sugary Stuff
OK, so you’re drinking water instead of soda and attempting to be more selective with foods that contain sugar. Now, for the pièce de résistance: You can still have your cake and eat it, too. Enjoy dessert, says Gans. Just halve it and share with a friend — or a few friends. Sharing will not only mean enjoying a decadent treat, but you wont do nearly as much damage on the sugar front. Make added sugars special-occasion-only, and youll be on the right path to cutting your sugar intake.
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Top Tips And Simple Swaps
- Swap high-sugar breakfast cereals for 50:50 or wholegrain toast, crumpets, bagels, plain yogurt with fruit or porridge with berries. Make sure you read labels closely, as some cereals position themselves as high fibre and healthy, yet contain high levels of sugar. At weekends, try scrambled or poached eggs on toast or savoury pancakes for a tasty alternative.
- Instead of cakes, pastries, biscuits or sweets, try a plain scone, unsalted nuts, breadsticks, fruit and vegetable sticks, or oat cakes topped with a small amount of peanut butter, sliced banana, cheese or hummus.
- Rather than fizzy drinks, try sparkling water mixed with a small amount of unsweetened fruit juice. Alternatively, blend some fruit, ice and milk to make a healthier alternative.
- Why not bake a fruit crumble or tart with minimal added sugar, or try one of our sugar-free bakes? Add a drizzle of cream for a healthier alternative to jelly and ice cream. Plain yogurt topped with berries, or fruit salad are both delicious options too.
- Be a role model children tend to copy behaviour, so if they see you eating a healthy diet, they will too.
Added Sugars Vs Natural Sugars Big Difference
Its very important to make the distinction between added sugars and sugars that occur naturally in foods like fruits and vegetables.
These foods contain water, fiber, and various micronutrients. Naturally occurring sugars are absolutely fine, but the same does not apply to added sugar.
Added sugar is the main ingredient in candy and abundant in many processed foods, such as soft drinks and baked products.
The most common added sugars are regular table sugar and high fructose corn syrup.
To optimize your health, do your best to avoid foods that contain added sugars. Even the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting calories from added sugars to less than 10 percent of total calories per day .
Also, remember that added sugars can also include natural sugars. For instance, if you add honey to your oatmeal, your oatmeal contains added sugar from a natural source.
Sugar thats added to processed foods is much more harmful to your health than the natural sugar in whole foods like fruits and vegetables.
- Men: 150 calories per day
- Women: 100 calories per day
To put that into perspective, one 12-ounce can of Coke contains 140 calories from sugar, while a regular-sized Snickers bar contains 120 calories from sugar.
In contrast, the US dietary guidelines advise people to limit their intake to less than 10% of their daily calorie intake. For a person eating 2,000 calories per day, this would equal 50 grams of sugar, or about 12.5 teaspoons .
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