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Recommended daily sugar intake: How much is enough?

Added sugar in our food is perhaps the single worst feature of our modern diet. Added sugar contributes nothing to our health and is a cause of many of the deadliest health conditions of our time. Exceeding the recommended daily sugar intake can have serious health consequences. 

Doctors and other healthcare professionals have been telling us for years to understand the correct recommended daily sugar intake. Maintaining a healthy level of sugar has everything to do with how we stay healthy. 

The problem many of us face is that we simply do not know or fully understand the recommended daily sugar intake. How much sugar is too much, and which sugars are acceptable and which are not? Our bodies do require a certain amount of sugar. Glycogens and other biochemical features of our metabolism depend on a specific level of sugars in our system.

What is the recommended daily sugar intake? How do we properly maintain the recommended daily sugar intake? What kinds of foods are best as we work toward maintaining the recommended daily sugar intake? This guide will give you all the information you need to understand the recommended daily sugar intake and how to eat right to prevent too much sugar in your diet. 

What is sugar?

When we talk about sugar, we are talking about a broad name for a family of sweet-tasting carbohydrates that exist in many forms. Sugars are naturally occurring compounds that can be found abundantly in plants. 

As a chemical term, “sugar” usually refers to all carbohydrates of the general formula Cn(H2O)n. What changes as sugars go through chemical alterations or bonding processes is the number attached to each chain in the molecule. These chemical structures can also bond to each other through a process in which a glycosidic bond is formed and this leads to complex sugars such as glycols. 

Simple sugars include glucose, fructose, and galactose. There are long-chain sugars, or disaccharides and polysaccharides, that can include things like glycerol and alcohol.  

Honey and fruits are examples of natural simple sugars. These forms of sugar are easily accessible to our bodies. Sucrose is the form we are most accustomed to. This is simple table sugar. Sucrose is also the processed and refined form of sugar that is added to foods. 

Sugars derived from corn products are some of the most common sugars added to foods. These natural sugars are refined and added to foods, even foods that are not intended to taste sweet. 

Sugar in itself is not bad for your health. Sugar becomes a problem when we consume too much of it, and the addition of refined sugar to processed foods has led us all to consume far too much sugar. Junk snacks, sodas, and too many sweets lead us to consume sugar at rates that are simply not healthy. 

Types of sugar

As noted above, there are numerous types of sugar. We are familiar with only a few. The most common form of sugar is sucrose. This is table sugar, the type of sugar we use to sweeten drinks, and for baking. 

Other types of sugar include: 

  • Fructose: found in fruits and honey
  • Galactose: found in milk and dairy products
  • Glucose: found in honey, fruits, and vegetables
  • Lactose: found in milk, made from glucose and galactose
  • Maltose: found in barley
  • Sucrose: made up of glucose and fructose and found in plants
  • Xylose: found in wood or straw

In addition to these common sugars, there is a group of sugars derived from corn called high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). As we can see from the name, this sugar is made from corn. HFCS was invented in the 1960s and is a major additive to many processed foods. Part of its appeal is that it is cheaper and easier to mass-produce than sugars derived from things like beets. 

HFCS is fattening and it has contributed to the obesity epidemic in the United States and around the world. HFCS is added to so many foods it can be difficult to obtain any processed food that does not contain HFCS. 

Recommended daily sugar intake

In practical terms, there is no simple answer to how much sugar you should eat in a day. We are all a little different and some people can eat more sugar than others without any adverse effects. A good rule is simply to avoid adding sugar to anything. 

The American Heart Association recommends the following guidelines for how the recommended daily intake of sugar:

Men: 150 calories per day, or 37.5 grams (9 teaspoons)

Women: 100 calories per day, or 25 grams (6 teaspoons)

To visualize how much these numbers equal, a single 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola contains 140 calories of sugar. A Snickers bar contains 120 calories of sugar. This means that a single can of coke already exceeds the recommended daily sugar intake for an adult woman. 

The US guidelines for sugar intake suggest that we not exceed 10 percent of our calorie intake from sugar. This translates to about 50 grams (12.5 teaspoons) of sugar for a daily caloric intake of 2000 calories. 

As with everything else, the key is to remain active to burn up sugar calories. The bottom line where it comes to sugar intake is that we do not need any added sugar in our diet and should therefore avoid it. 

Does natural sugar count towards daily intake?

Daily sugar intake should not exceed 10 percent of our daily calories. Ideally, we would keep it down to 5 percent. This is about 25 grams of sugar. 

According to the World Health Organization, sugar includes all sugars. This means sucrose, but also dextrose, glucose, and fructose. This means things like honey and fruit juices count in our daily sugar intake. 

However, sugars that naturally occur in foods may not count. Whole fruits, for example, are not counted as part of the daily sugar intake schedule. This is because things like whole fruit also contain fiber that slows the absorption of sugars in the body. 

Still, we need to be careful about this because so many foods now contain added sugars. These refined sugars count toward our daily sugar intake. Added sugar is effectively “hidden” in things like bread, tomato sauces, salad dressings, and many other foods we eat regularly. All of these sources of refined sugar count toward our daily recommended sugar intake. 

How does the body react to too much sugar?

Eating too much sugar has serious health consequences. Our bodies react to too much sugar in almost nothing but negative ways. 

Obesity and weight gain

The primary and most obvious health effect of too much sugar is weight gain. Added sugar is the primary cause of the obesity epidemic. 

Things that many of us consume every day like soda and sweet teas are loaded with added sugar. And it is not just the sugar that causes the problem. Added fructose, primarily in the form of high fructose corn syrup, increases hunger and the feeling that you need to eat more. In this way, added sugar drives weight gain with the excess calories and compels you to eat more and add even more calories. 

Sugary drinks and foods do not fill you up, even if they are filling and easy. On the contrary, these kinds of foods and drinks make you hungrier. 

Heart disease

High-sugar diets increase your risk of heart disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death around the world. 

High-sugar diets contribute to obesity, inflammation, and high levels of triglycerides. These kinds of diets increase blood sugar levels and blood pressure levels. All of these things are risk factors for heart disease. 

Studies have shown that a high sugar diet can increase your risk of death from some form of heart disease by as much as 38 percent. 

Increased risk of type 2 diabetes

In the past 30 years, the prevalence of type 2 diabetes has doubled worldwide. This is linked to the ever-increasing consumption of added sugars. 

Added sugar leads to obesity and this alone increases your risk of type 2 diabetes. But even more problematic is the fact that added sugars in foods contribute to resistance to insulin which shuts down the body's natural metabolic processes for burning sugar. 

The problem is two-fold: added sugars increase the amount of sugar in the body and they reduce our ability to process the sugar we eat. This is what leads to an increase in type 2 diabetes. 

Depression

It is a fact that a healthy diet can improve your mood. It is equally well-known that added sugar increases your risk of depression. 

Research has shown that consuming large amounts of added refined sugar contributes to higher rates of depression. Doctors have found that blood sugar levels are tied to mood swings. Blood sugar is also a factor for neurotransmitter dysregulation and inflammation. High sugar intake can lead to mental health problems, most notably depression. 

How to reduce sugar intake

Much of the reason we eat too much sugar is out of habit. We simply get used to putting sugar in things. To be fair, sugar is added to so many foods now that it can be hard to avoid. Even something that seems healthy like whole-wheat bread can contain added sugar. 

Here are some ways to reduce the amount of sugar we eat.

Get rid of table sugar

If you cannot eliminate sugar from things like coffee and tea, try reducing the amount by half. Stop putting sugar on things like cereal and pancakes. You will get used to eating things without added sugar easily and quickly. 

Eliminate soft drinks

Water is always the best thing to stay hydrated. While diet drinks can be better than regular soft drinks, they are still bad for a variety of reasons. Also, remember that many sports drinks contain large amounts of added sugar. 

Eat fresh fruits

Avoid canned or frozen fruit that contains syrup. If all you have is frozen fruits, drain the syrup and rinse it. 

Start reading food labels

It takes a little extra time, but start reading the food labels to see how much sugar is in the foods you buy. Many foods that appear healthy contain large amounts of added sugar. 

Add fresh fruit

Adding fresh fruit like strawberries to cereal and oatmeal is a great way to stop adding sugar to your food.

Smaller portions

When you indulge in perfectly healthy sweets, try to eat less. Things like cookies, brownies, and cake are indulgences. Simply eat less. 

Substitute

You can do things like use unsweetened applesauce in place of sugar. This works even in baking.  

Sugar risks

The simple fact is that added sugar is almost uniformly bad for your health and provides no nutritional benefit. 

The risks of sugar include:

  • Obesity
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Bad skin
  • Depression
  • Advanced cellular aging

And many other more subtle health issues.  

Conclusion

Perhaps the greatest difficulty many of us face with reducing our sugar intake is that it simply tastes good. We like sweets and soft drinks, and they are easy to consume but taking some time to consider the facts of sugar and its impact on the body can be an eye-opener. 

Added sugar provides little to no benefit. We can all maintain a perfectly healthy diet without ever adding sugar to anything we eat. What is more, added sugar does contribute to many serious health problems.

The massive obesity epidemic that has spread over the world is largely due to added sugars in the diet. Heart disease and type 2 diabetes are also caused by consuming added sugars. And one of the most insidious aspects of added sugar is that it makes us feel hungrier and we eat more as a result. 

The sugar we get from things like fresh fruit is all we need in a day. These sugars are healthier, and fruits contain natural fiber that slows the absorption of sugar in the body. 

While we are all likely to continue indulging in a slice of cake or a few cookies now and then, we can all benefit from paying more attention to our sugar intake and reducing the amount of sugar we eat in a day. 

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