How Much Sugar is Too Much?

It’s official!  Health 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 – 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! While it may give immediate energy, it has little nutritional value, and excess consumption is associated with poor health.

The problem is that sugar is everywhere. It’s naturally occurring in many healthy foods we eat such as fruits, vegetables and grains.  But it’s also added to just about every processed food on the shelves!  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.  Consuming too much sugar is a huge health risk, no matter how you look at it.

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

 

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 are good for you. Eating fruits and vegetables is a well-proven way to reduce your risks of many chronic diseases.

“Added sugars,” on the other hand, are concerning. 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 most other processed foods. You can find sugar on the ingredient list as many names, often ending in “-ose.” These include glucose, fructose, sucrose, etc.

So for the mathematically inclined:

“TOTAL SUGAR” = “Naturally occurring sugars” + “Added sugars.”

The “official” change is the new Nutrition Facts tables. You may remember that in Canada and the USA, they used to only declare the amount of sugar, but don’t give it a % DV (% daily value); this means, they’ve never had a “benchmark” maximum daily value to use.  They had not declared how much is too much.  This has now changed!  Recently, both countries are finally implementing a % DV for sugar – a step in the right direction for sure!

In Canada, the % DV on nutrition labels 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; which is significantly less than these two benchmarks. Yet look around you.  Obesity rates are still on the rise and obesity-related illnesses are increasing as well! Clearly people are getting healthier.  Therefore, I’d argue that the 100 g per day total sugar is still far too high to support health!

In the USA, the labels are changing too. They are not declaring “total” sugars but will differentiate between naturally occurring and added sugars. They have 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.

 

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. For that reason I wouldn’t recommend eating your “daily value” of sugar from sweetened processed foods. Even the 50 g of “added” sugar per day isn’t healthy! I would recommend you get your ALL your sugar from whole, unprocessed fruits and vegetables!  The sugar you consume in these comes along with fiber.  The fiber slows down the absorption unlike the sugar found in overly processed foods!

Second, you don’t ever need to max out your daily sugar intake. I promise!  Your body will adapt and start using fat as fuel as you decrease the amount of sugar you consumer.  It is my recommendation to reduce your sugar intake below these “official” amounts for 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, sports drinks, etc. Instead, have 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 instead. You can easily reduce the sugar in most recipes by half. Or try my delicious (no added sugar) dessert recipe below.
  • Instead 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.
  • Compare labels!  You’d be surprised to learn what items you consume on a regular basis have added sugar in them!
  • Use a food tracking app like My Fitness Pal or Carb Manager.  Even tracking your food for a week or so will give you more awareness into how much sugar you’re actually consuming.

Do You Need a Sugar Detox?

Maybe a sugar detox is something you’re interested in?  I recently went through a 30 day sugar detox where I cut my total sugar to 20 net grams for 2 weeks then 50 net grams for the last 2 weeks.  I was surprised at how much energy and mental clarity I had throughout this challenge!  An added bonus was I also dropped 14 pounds and 7 inches (mostly around my mid-section). A close family member did the challenge with me and dropped 30 pounds and 30 inches!  Feel free to hit the CONTACT US tab if you want to learn more!  If 30 days seems a bit extreme, we also offer a FREE 5-Day Sugar Detox program!  It’s a great kick-start to reducing sugar intake!

 

 

Recipe (No added sugar): Frosty

[Serves 1]

¾ cup almond milk (unsweetened)

½ tsp vanilla extract

1 tbsp cocoa powder (unsweetened)

½ banana, frozen

Ice cubes

 

Instructions

Add everything into a blender except ice. Blend.

Add a handful of ice cubes and pulse until thick and ice is blended.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Double the recipe to share.

 

References:

https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-labelling-changes.html?_ga=2.256456139.1337838755.1500915116-364691916.1498677123

https://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm385663.htm#images

http://www.heartandstroke.ca/get-healthy/healthy-eating/reduce-sugar

http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Nutrition/Added-Sugars_UCM_305858_Article.jsp#.WXYtbYjys2w

https://authoritynutrition.com/how-much-sugar-per-day/

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/truth-about-sugar

http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-break-the-sugar-habit-and-help-your-health-in-the-process

http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-spot-and-avoid-added-sugar

http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/eating-too-much-added-sugar-increases-the-risk-of-dying-with-heart-disease-201402067021

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