How Much Is Too Much Sugar?
We don’t believe in depriving yourself or being too extreme with your diet. Health isn’t about being a maniac or feeling like you can never have any fun — who wants that life?
But we do believe in balance and knowing our limits when it comes to fun foods that aren’t super good for us — especially added sugar. When consumed in excess, sugar can potentially contribute to all kinds of maladies, including heart disease. That doesn’t sound fun, either.
“The more (sugar) we have, the more we want,” says Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN, who contributed to Sugar Free 3 on Openfit. And the more we have, the harder it is to get that same buzz. You want that sugar rush. You want to feel good. But this desire can disrupt sleep, leading to fatigue and increased consumption of other calories, which causes a whole host of health issues.
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How Much Sugar Should I Eat Per Day?
Here’s what that recommendation means:
- For most women, that’s about 100 calories per day or about 6 teaspoons of sugar.
- For men, it’s about 150 calories per day or 9 teaspoons.
To give you an idea of how crazy easy it is to rack up the amount of sugar you consume, a 12 oz. can of Coke has a whopping 156 calories and 37 grams of sugar!
It’s important to note that the AHA is referring to added sugars, not naturally occurring sugars, but eating six pineapples is probably overkill. Too much sugar in a day can lead to instability in mood, fatigue, and that frequent “sugar crash” feeling.
What’s the Difference Between Added Sugar and Natural Sugar?
It’s pretty simple:
- Natural sugars are sugars that are naturally occurring in the food, like sugar found in fruit, milk, and some veggies.
- Added sugars are sugars added to foods during prep, cooking, or processing like ice cream, soft drinks, energy drinks, and candy.
While the body reacts to sugar similarly no matter its source, added sugars can be considered empty calories that provide little nutritional value. When you consume sugar through fruit, for example, your body is also receiving vitamins, minerals, and good fiber. Fiber slows down the process of sugar absorption in the bloodstream and promotes fullness, which can prevent overeating.
Added sugar is the original “phantom menace,” says Glassman. “If you take a look at what’s in your pantry, you’ll see the crackers, dressing, and marinara sauce likely have sugar. You may have an increased desire for sugar because you’re consuming more of it than you even realize.”
How Do You Avoid Sugar?
It is truly shocking when you realize how much sugar is added to our foods, even ones that don’t taste sweet! If you want to limit or cut down on sugar, “it is best to avoid many highly processed foods or limit to 1-2 servings per day,” says Berez. Here are some ways to avoid excess sugar:
- Avoid soft drinks, as they are the leading source of added sugars.
- Eat more whole foods, and stay away from pre-packaged foods.
- Opt for fruit instead of candy or other sweets.
- Cook more. It’s hard to know how much sugar is in your foods when eating at restaurants, so the best way to avoid sugar entirely is to cook your meals. If you’re preparing your meals, you have total control over how much sugar goes in (or stays out!).
- Always read the nutrition label and ingredient list. Often, sugar has other aliases like “high fructose corn syrup,” “molasses,” “dextrose,” or “cane juice,” so it’s essential to know how those sneaky devils mask themselves.
“Take every meal one step at a time,” advises Glassman. “Think of the next meal. The next craving. If you go day by day, it’s going to be easier.”
Will Sugar Make Me Gain Weight?
Maybe. “Sugar can definitely cause excess weight gain if you are consuming more than the recommended amount,” Berez says.
Excess sugar does indeed contribute to weight gain but remember: you don’t have to go crazy. If you know you want a slice of holiday pie after dinner, be mindful of your sugar consumption throughout the day.
“Giving up added sugar helps with weight loss in many ways,” says Glassman. “First of all, sugar equals extra calories, and extra calories eventually turn to fat to be stored if they aren’t needed for fuel by the body. Secondly, sugar is easy to overconsume because, well, it tastes good!”
If you can’t live without your pumpkin spice latte, make sure the rest of your breakfast is full of whole, natural foods. It’s all about balance!