How Much Added Sugar Is OK?
Sugar has a pretty poor reputation these days with regard to health. From getting called a toxin and addictive to being the new scapegoat for the largest health problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity, it’s tough not to be both intrigued and confused by sugar.
While eating too much sugar can certainly be detrimental to health, this doesn’t mean that you or your family need to swear off all sweets, or worse, foods like fruits and dairy products that contain naturally occurring sugars. In fact, there’s no research that shows that moderate amounts of sugar are going to harm you when combined with a healthful eating plan that includes veggies, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats, and proteins (both plant and animal if you choose).
Here’s a balanced approach that will not only be a healthful one, but a more enjoyable one.
How much added sugar is recommended?
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that no more than 10% of your total daily calories come from added sugar. That’s about 50g or 200 calories from added sugar if your calorie needs are roughly 2,000 per day. That translates to about 12 teaspoons of added sugar per day (this does not include naturally occurring sugar in foods like fruit and dairy products). However, the amount would be less for someone whose energy needs are lower, such as children or those who are not active. The American Heart Association recommends that kids should eat no more than 6 teaspoons per day of added sugar. Don’t worry, we’re not recommending that you start counting calories or sugar grams — we’ve got some practical tips below!
Where is added sugar coming from?
Some foods and beverages with high amounts of added sugar include sodas, breakfast cereals and granola bars, sports drinks, flavored yogurts, and sweets such as cookies, cake, brownies, pastries, etc. Added sugar is also found in other processed foods like ketchup, sauces and salad dressings in smaller amounts. Does this mean you should avoid these foods or feel guilty for eating them? Nope! It means you should be mindful of portions of these foods and consider balancing them with the rest of the foods you eat in a day, or even in a week.
Why take a balanced approach to sugar intake?
Trying to completely cut out added sugar or naturally occurring sugar in foods (like fruit and dairy products) may actually do more harm than good by adding to eating stress and compromising a healthy relationship with food. This in turn may raise stress hormone levels and could make you crave sugar even more. Also, foods that are perceived as forbidden may be more likely to overeaten.
Here are 6 tips for balancing your sugar intake
You don’t need to count calories, or even grams of sugar, to keep your daily added sugar intake within the recommended amounts. Here’s what we recommend.
- Choose the plain / unflavored version of foods like yogurt and oatmeal and add sweetness via fruit or a teaspoon or two of your own sweetener (maple syrup, honey, brown sugar, etc.)
- If you consume soda and sweetened beverages daily (or add more than 1-2 teaspoons of sugar to coffee or tea), in addition to other added sugar foods, aim to cut back slowly by substituting one of your daily sodas with sparkling water or another non-sugary beverage like unsweetened tea or water flavored with lemon.
- If your kids love granola bars or sweetened cereals, aim to choose brands with fewer than 6 grams of added sugar per serving. Or, choose an unsweetened version and add sweetener at home if necessary. Chances are they’ll be just as satisfied with less sugar when you add it/let them add it to an unsweetened food.
- Choose to prepare more food at home overall. This will help you consume less sugar in the form of processed foods or foods purchased out.
- Cut the sugar in baking recipes by up to 1/3, and/or choose to eat more baked goods from home.
- Focus on making your meals include a variety of nourishing foods, including vegetables, whole grains, foods rich in protein and healthy fats. Doing so will naturally reduce the amount of added sugar you consume.
How do you feel about added sugar? What strategies do you use at home to balance your sugar intake with a healthful eating plan?