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How much sugar is too much?

March 16th, 2014 | no comments

New draft guidelines from the World Health Organization propose that we slash our daily added sugar intake to less than 5% of our total calories. The average American consumes approximately 15% of their daily calories from added sugars, so we definitely have some work to do!

You don’t have to have a PhD in nutrition to know that eating too much sugar is unhealthy. Sure it threatens your dental health and can pile on unwanted pounds, but did you know that (according to a recent study) consuming too much added sugar also increases your risk of death from heart disease? Other research has tied a high intake of added sugars, especially sugar-sweetened beverages, to high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and risk factors for heart disease and stroke.

I can hear you now “OK Melanie, enough of the science and mumbo jumbo! Tell us what “less than 5% of our total calories” from sugar looks like in the real world. You know…for us normal, non-dietitian people who don’t eat, breathe and sleep nutrition!” I just read your mind didn’t I? 😉

It equals out to no more than: 6 teaspoons of added sugar (25 grams) per day for women and 9 teaspoons (38 grams) of added sugar for men.

Sugar grams can be easily found on any food label under Total Carbohydrate. As you scan more and more labels, you will quickly learn that added sugar is found in the most unlikely foods. For example:

  • Ketchup (1 tablespoon) = 4 grams of sugar
  • Marinara sauce (1/2 cup) = 8 grams of sugar
  • Barbecue sauce (1 tablespoon) = 6 grams of sugar
  • Quaker Peanut Butter Granola Bar = 10 grams of sugar
  • Whole wheat bread (1 slice) = 4 grams of sugar
  • Chobani Honey Greek Yogurt (6 oz) = 9 grams of sugar
  • Gatorade (32 oz) = 56 grams of sugar (YIKES!!!!)

Important NOTE: Natural sugar from fruit and milk are just that…natural! So when you spot “Sugar: 13 grams” on the nutrition facts label of a gallon of milk…don’t freak out! It’s actually natural milk sugar and does not pose the risks of added sugar. Unfortunately, current label laws do not require added sugars to be separated from natural sugars, so things can get confusing (even for us dietitians!) The good news is that proposed label changes are in the works to add a line for “added sugars.”

The bottom line: I don’t recommend removing all added sugar from your diet for a couple of reasons: 1. It’s next to impossible and 2. It’s NO FUN! I mean…what’s life without chocolate?! Instead, educate yourself by learning to read labels and become more aware of the sources of sugar in your everyday life. Then take steps to gradually reduce it and choose products with less sugar. For example, I refuse to give up strawberry jam. So rather than purchase a jar from the store (which contains more sugar than strawberries), I make my own jam in less than 15 minutes. Here’s the recipe I use:

Still Sweet Strawberry Jam
(Serving size: 1 tablespoon; Servings per recipe: 28)

1 quart hulled strawberries or other fresh fruit
1/4 cup sugar (most recipes call for 1-2 cups of sugar!)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

In a food processor, process strawberries until coarsely chopped. Transfer to a large skillet and stir in sugar and lemon juice. Cook over medium-high, stirring frequently, until jam is thickened and bubbles completely cover surface, 9 to 10 minutes. Transfer jam to a jar and let cool to room temperature. (To store, seal jar and refrigerate, up to 10 days).

Added sugar per tablespoon: 2 grams (Yayyyy!)

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