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How Much Sugar is Too Much Sugar?

Believe it or not, organizations and government administrations are (finally) declaring a maximum for daily sugar intake levels.

While this is a step in the right direction, there are still a few wrinkles to iron out. First, these organizations and administrations don’t all agree with each other. And, second, I'm not terribly certain that I fully agree with them either.

Here's the stone cold truth: sugar is NOT a health food. It isn’t a powerhouse of nutrition, and excess consumption never seems to correlate with great health.

Unfortunately, sugar is everywhere. It’s naturally occurring, and refined versions of it are also added to nearly every form of processed food there is. It's this “added sugar” that is a contributing factor to many of the chronic diseases that plague us today. For one thing, sugar is inflammatory. Sugar is associated with excessive weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, even cavities.

No matter how you look at it; sugar is a huge health risk... 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 I bring up their “official” numbers (and why I don’t agree with them), I want to explain the difference is between “added” sugar and “naturally occurring” sugar.

Fruit and other healthy whole foods contain sugar; naturally occurring sugar... They also contain water, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other phytochemicals. They are, without a doubt, good for you. Eating fruits and vegetables is a well-proven way to reduce your risks of many chronic diseases.

It's “added sugars,” on the other hand, that are disconcerting. In 2013, the American Heart Association calculated that about 25,000 deaths per year were due to sugared beverages. “Added sugars” are also in baked goods, candies, soups, sauces and other processed foods.

If you check ingredient labels, you can find sugar listed by many names, often ending in “-ose.” These include glucose, fructose, sucrose, etc.

So, "Total sugars" = "Naturally occurring sugars" + "Added sugars."

The "official" change is the new Nutrition Facts tables, and although Canada and the USA have required these tables to declare the amount of sugar in an item, they hadn't provided a maximum %DV (% daily value). This means, they've never had a "benchmark" maximum daily value to use. They have never had to declare how much is "too" much.

That has changed. Now, both countries are in the process of implementing a %DV for sugar.

In Canada, the %DV is based on 100 g/day of total sugar. Unfortunately, this number is large because it includes both naturally occurring and added sugars. However, the %DV falls in-line with the Canadian Heart & Stroke Foundation's recommendations of no more than 90 g of total sugars per day.

In the USA, they are not declaring "total" sugars on the label, 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?

Well... although these official numbers are a step in the right direction, they’re not what I would recommend.

I'd first recommend ditching as many processed food as possible (regardless of their sugar content). There are numerous studies that herald the dangers processed foods can have on your health. So, I repeat; don't eat your “daily value” of sugar from sweetened processed foods. Get your sugar from whole, unprocessed foods, fruits and vegetables first.

Second, I'd recommend that you don’t even try to 'max out' your daily sugar intake. You don't need to! Reducing your sugar intake to levels below these “official” amounts is 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 a recipe 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.

Now, if you have another favorite tip that you use to reduce your sugar intake, I'd love to hear it! Share your thoughts in the comments section, and let me know your most effective way to reducing your sugar intake!


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