“I’m not a vegetarian! I’m a dessertarian!”
― Bill Watterson from Calvin and Hobbes
Oh how often I wish I could be a dessertarian! Unfortunately, I think that only works for animated little boys with gigantic imaginations. And that is not me. Or you.
Here in the real world, sugar is the health villain of our day. It has been strongly linked to being overweight, obesity, and tooth decay. Then weight problems lead to diabetes and heart disease so there is a lot we can blame on sugar.1 With everyone saying to cut back on sugar, the big question come of how much should I be eating? You will hear a lot of numbers being thrown around but every body is different so lets look at how much sugar is right for you.
The World Health Organization (WHO) “strongly recommends” keeping your added sugar to less than 10% of your daily calories. But they suggest that keeping sugars to less than 5% of daily calories will give added benefit.2 I personally shoot for 5% daily calories from sugar. That gives a buffer so if I have a bit more sugar I am still under the 10% recommendation and it helps with weight loss if you need it.
OK 5%, now I have a number. How in the world does that translate to food? Most places I have seen give 5% daily calories as about 25 grams or 6 teaspoons (for a 2000 calorie/day diet). This is a good number and way less than the 20 teaspoons (350 calories!) people usually eat every day.3 Even for a 2-year-old who is not very active, 25 grams of sugar would only be 10% of their daily calories. If you want to be a little more specific, you can use this calculator that we talked about in our Calculating Daily Calories post to calculate a daily sugar intake for you (4 calories = 1 g sugar, 4g sugar = 1 teaspoon).
Not All Equal
The question now becomes what type of sugar is good and which is bad. There are many different sugars out there these days with different claims about one being better than the other. Agave nectar is tops and then next week it is coconut sugar while others still stick to the tried and true of honey. Health claims aside 50 extra grams of sugar a day are still 50 grams of sugar no matter if you get them from honey, syrup, or eating them by the spoonful out of the sugar bag. The main focus should be on reducing overall sugar then you can debate about the benefits of the kind you still eat.
Health organizations like the WHO and USDA usually split sugars into two groups.
Added or Free Sugar
Added sugar is the sugar added to products during processing. It includes “refined” sugars like white sugar and corn syrup but it also includes concentrated natural sugar like honey, syrup, and fruit juice. The 25 gram sugar recommendation refers to this group.2
There are lots of naturally occurring sugars found in fruit, vegetables, and milk. Natural sugars do not cause adverse effects so there is no limit on consumption besides for the daily recommendations for those food groups.2
It is hard to tell the difference between added sugar and natural sugar when they are both together. In that blueberry muffin how much of the 15g of sugar comes from the blueberries and how much is added? One way to tell is the ingredient list. If blueberries are listed before sugar, that means there are more blueberries than sugar. If there is more sugar than blueberries, you may want to pick a different breakfast.
The FDA has proposed changing food labels to include total sugar and added sugar. I am completely in favor of that change. But until then, you will have to guess using the ingredient test. There are many names for sugar that do not sound like sugar so keep an eye out for syrup, juice, malt, nectar, malodextrin, or words that end in -ose or -ol (like sucrose or xylitol).
There you have it! Now you have a sugar goal to work toward. If you do not feel up to cutting all your sugar at once, just work slowly. We will look at some easy ways to cut sugar in upcoming posts but you can start now by looking first at the sugar in the things you eat everyday. All those little steps add up.
In case you missed some of that or you want to share this sugary knowledge with friends, you can use this infographic! Grab the code to share it on your website. We are happy to spread the love but please attribute back to Fast to Fresh.
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- “Sugars intake for adults and children guideline”. World Health Organization. 2015. (Read online here.)
- “WHO calls on countries to reduce sugars intake among adults and children”. World Health Organization. 4 Mar 2015. (Read online here.)
- Strom, Stephanie. “U.S. Cuts Estimate of Sugar Intake”. New York Times. 26 Oct 2012. (Read online here.)