How much sugar is too much?
How much do you know about added sugar? Do you know that…
- There is added sugar in 74% of packaged foods in the grocery store
- The average american consumes 66 pounds of added sugar every year
- Added sugar is addictive: it releases an opiate-like substance that activates the reward center in the brain.
- Added sugar might actually damage the mitochondria and inhibit energy production.
- Added sugar might lead to nutrient deficiencies by using up nutrients from food in order to be metabolized.
Pretty wild, right? What’s even crazier is that it is sometimes hard to tell what has added sugar by reading the food label. The new Nutrition Facts Panel does distinguish between added sugar and natural sugar, and it is always a good idea to check the ingredient list to see if there is added sugar as well.
I do want to make sure to clarify that I am talking about *added* sugar in this article, not naturally occurring sugars found in fruits and vegetables.
While fruits and vegetables do have sugar, they also have fiber and other nutrients so that they do not impact blood sugar as dramatically and provide health benefits. If you do not have any issues with diabetes or insulin resistance, enjoy a few servings of fruit throughout the day.
Why stay away from added sugar?
Added sugar has been linked to healthy problems such as higher blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain, diabetes, and fatty liver disease, and heart disease.
Some of these conditions might affect things as well such as gut health, joints and exercise recovery.
Inflammation can reduce recovery from exercise and can potentially lead to chronic pain in the joints.
A few years ago, when I was experiencing some chronic knee pain, I tried a lot of different strategies to manage it, including removing added sugars from my diet. I was shocked by the positive impacts. I also noticed a pretty dramatic decrease in other aches and pains.
New research is linking inflammation and dysbiosis in the gut with a lot of different possible health issues such as cancer and obesity.
So how much sugar is ok?
Ideally, we would not have any added sugar in our diets or as little as possible.
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 100 calories of added sugar per day (about 6 teaspoons) for women and less than 150 calories per day (about 9 teaspoons) for men. Some sweetened yogurts have up to 9 teaspoons of sugar and one soda has 10 teaspoons of sugar!
The proposed changes to the food label aims to distinguish between added sugar and natural sugar, but until then, labels just list sugar.
Sugars do occur naturally in foods like fruit and dairy, and these sugars come packaged along with fiber, vitamins and other nutrients. These are not the sugars that we want to avoid. So until the changes to the food labels are made, we need to dig a little deeper and look at the ingredient list on a food label. Added sugars come with all sorts of different names.
Here is a list of some of the things you might see that indicate added sugar:
- Agave Nectar
- Corn Syrup solids
- Fruit Juice Concentrate
- High-Fructose Corn Syrup
- Palm Sugar
- Rice Syrup
This list is not complete and there are many different names that sugar can have on a label, but these are some of the most common.
Start to pay attention to labels and see how much sugar you are eating every day. With the prevalence of added sugar in foods we buy in the grocery store (even health food stores!), it can be challenging initially to avoid added sugar. Being mindful and paying attention can help you start to find good alternatives that don’t have added sugars.
Have any questions about added sugars or substitutions you have made to cut out sugars? Get in touch!
Julie Cornelius, MS has an extensive background in nutrition. She graduated from the University of Arizona in Tucson, AZ with both her Bachelors of Science and Masters of Science in Nutrition. Her emphasis and research focus during her Masters program was in nutrition for active individuals and sports nutrition. She has worked in fitness studios helping clients achieve their nutrition goals, spent two years teaching college nutrition courses, and was the founder of Julie Bar, an organic energy bar company. Julie is a long time cyclist and mountain biker who loves being outdoors. Her home base is Moab, UT, but she enjoys traveling and mountain biking around the world. Julie also runs a non-profit called World Ride with the mission of empowering women globally through mountain biking. In addition to being the Boost Nutrition Coach, Julie is also the office manager.