Most Americans are consuming diets that contain too many added sugars. Consuming too many added sugars in your diet can lead to health complications, such as weight gain and obesity, the development of type 2 diabetes, as well as heart disease.
It is important to recognize the difference between added sugars and natural sugars.
Added sugars are sugars and syrups that are added into foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared. These include things like sucrose, dextrose, table sugar, syrups, and more.
Natural sugars are sugars that are naturally occurring and are already contained within the food or beverage prior to processing, such as the sugar within fruit.
The leading sources of added sugars in the US diet are sweetened beverages (47%), such as soda, and sweet snacks (31%), like cookies, cakes, brownies, ice cream, pastries, etc.
Added sugars contribute calories to your diet, but they do not give your body any nutrients that it needs. Consuming too many products with added sugars makes it difficult to maintain a healthy eating pattern without taking in too many calories.
Consumption is High
American adults consume an average of 77 grams of sugar per day, which is more than 3 times the recommended amount for women. This adds up to around 60 pounds of added sugar annually – that’s six, 10-pound bowling balls, folks!
The numbers are even worse for children. American kids consume 81 grams per day, equaling over 65 pounds of added sugar per year. Think of it this way – children are ingesting over 30 gallons of added sugars from beverages alone. That’s enough to fill a standard bathtub!
It all comes down to how fast the sugars get absorbed. For example, your body spends more time digesting an apple because of the fiber content, so the natural sugar absorbs more slowly. On the flip side, the added sugar in soda arrives all at once in your system like a sugar bomb. All that extra sugar gets converted to calories much more quickly. Not so good for your system!
Recommended Daily Intake
The American Heart Association Recommends the following:
- Men should consume no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams or 150 calories) of added sugar per day.
- For women, the number is lower: 6 teaspoons (25 grams or 100 calories) per day. Consider that one 12-ounce can of soda contains 8 teaspoons (32 grams) of added sugar! There goes your whole day’s allotment in one slurp.
- For children over the age of two, they should consume no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar each day. Children under the age of two should avoid consuming any added sugars.
To put that into perspective, one 12-ounce (355-mL) can of Coke contains 140 calories from sugar, while a regular-sized Snickers bar contains 120 calories from sugar.
In contrast, the US dietary guidelines advise people in general to limit their intake to less than 10% of their daily calorie intake. For a person eating 2,000 calories per day, this would equal 50 grams of sugar, or about 12.5 teaspoons.
If you’re healthy and active, these are reasonable recommendations. You’ll probably burn off these small amounts of sugar without them causing you any harm.
Still, it’s important to note that there’s no need for added sugars in the diet.
The best way to cut back on sugar is to limit your intake of highly processed foods.
This approach doesn’t require math, calorie counting, or reading food labels all the time.
However, if you’re simply unable to stick to unprocessed foods for financial reasons, here are some tips on how to make healthier choices:
- Know that sugar has many names. These names are, or include, added sugars.
- Check the ingredient list. If the ingredient list of a packaged food contains sugar in the first 3 ingredients or more than one type of sugar, consider avoiding it.
- Be aware of “healthy” high sugar foods. Know that other high sugar foods often labeled healthy fall into the same category. These include agave, honey, organic cane sugar, and coconut sugar.
- Read nutrition labels. Even foods disguised as “health foods” can be loaded with added sugars.
At the end of the day, it’s important to figure out the sugar intake that’s right for you.
Some people can handle a little bit of sugar in their diet, while for others it causes cravings, binge eating, rapid weight gain, and disease.
Every individual is unique, and you need to figure out what works for you.