How much sugar is too much sugar? It's less than you think.
Carbohydrates are an important source of energy for your body. But many foods aren't just packed with healthy carbohydrates, they're packed with too much sugar. These types of carbs can lead to health problems such as weight gain and tooth decay (especially in children), and increase your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
Your body breaks carbohydrates down into glucose, also called blood sugar. Glucose gives your cells, organs, and tissues the fuel they need to function. However, not all carbs are the same.
The food and beverages you consume contain two main types of carbs, including:
- Complex carbohydrates, which are found in
fiber-rich and starchy foods such as whole grains and potatoes. These foods
take a long time to break down. As your body processes them, your blood sugar
rises slowly to give you more sustained energy over the day.
- Simple carbohydrates, which are found in healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables, and certain dairy products. They're also found in sugary foods such as soda, juices, and snack items like cookies, candy, crackers, and other processed foods. These carbs aren't as filling as complex carbohydrates, so you're more likely to eat more than your body needs, which can cause your blood sugar levels to spike and then crash. Plus, consuming too many of these "empty calories" will cause your body to convert them into extra fat.
It's best to avoid added sugar as much as possible. However, it's OK to eat some. The American Heart Association recommends men eat no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams) of added sugar daily, and women have no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams). Children should limit added sugar intake to 10% or less of their daily calories, and kids under two should not have any added sugars in their diet.
Despite these recommendations, adults are eating too much sugar — an average 17 teaspoons per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture says the amount is significantly higher, at 34 teaspoons a day, which is equivalent to 500-plus calories.
Added sugar is hiding in many of the products people consume each day. The many processed foods and drinks we consume contain large amounts of it. For example, just one 12-ounce can of soda averages 8 teaspoons of sugar. Fruit juice, sports drinks, and coffee drinks are also responsible for about 50% of the excess sugar contained in the average American diet.
Splurging on an occasional caramel latte or chocolate chip cookie won't ruin your health. Consuming too much sugar on a daily basis can.
Excess sugar can put you at higher risk of developing serious health problems, including:
- Colon cancer
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Insulin resistance (prediabetes)
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Pancreatic cancer
- Tooth decay
- Type 2 diabetes
Additionally, some research shows consuming too much sugar can lead to chronic inflammation, which may worsen conditions such as inflammatory bowel disorder, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Cutting back on eating products that contain the word "sugar" in the ingredients is a great start, but added sugars have many different names, including:
- Brown sugar
- Cane sugar
- Cane syrup
- Coconut sugar
- Corn sweetener
- Fruit juice concentrate
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Maple syrup
- Turbinado sugar
Ingredients that end in "ose," such as
dextrose, fructose or lactose, are also considered sugars.
Limiting sugar in your diet doesn't mean cutting out all carbs. It means looking at where the carbohydrates and sugars are coming from in your diet. Try to increase the amount of complex carbs and lower the amount of added sugars. There are many ways to do this, including:
- Choosing water as your primary beverage throughout the day, which can help flush sugar out
- Drink unsweetened sparkling water. Add a small splash of fruit juice if you're craving something sweet.
- Eating a balanced diet with the recommended daily amount of carbohydrates, fiber, protein, and healthy fats
- Eating enough high-fiber fruits and vegetables
- Only adding one spoonful of sugar to your coffee instead of two or more.
- Reading nutrition labels and not buying or eating items with large amounts of added sugars
- Skipping sugary cocktails like margaritas and sipping a lower-calorie beer instead.
refined grains (white flour, white rice) for whole grains (whole wheat,
oatmeal, brown rice)
If you know you have risk factors for heart disease or diabetes, it may be beneficial to cut back on sugar. Trying to change your diet isn't always easy, but you can do plenty of things to limit your sugar intake a little bit at a time. A Reid Health provider can help you find more ways to lower your sugar intake and give you the support you need to stay on track.
If you or a loved one is eating too much sugar, Reid Health can help. Our nutrition experts can guide you toward better health. Schedule an appointment with a registered dietitian nutritionist.