Do you ever wonder, “How much sugar should I have a day?” I’ve got the recommendations and am busting myths about all things SUGAR.
Everyone seems to be concerned about sugar today. If you listen to the news and read the headlines, sugar is “toxic” and refined sugar is the cause of almost any illness. “How much sugar should I have a day?”, is one of the most common questions I am asked as a dietitian. This topic is complex, and I’m going to try and keep it simple, so you can choose what’s best for you and your family.
It seems people are very concerned about sugar and how much is too much. A quick Google search showed me this list of search terms folks have typed in…
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how much sugar is in fruit
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How much sugar should I consume
Do we need sugar?
First, understand that every cell in our bodies uses sugar. During digestion, ALL carbohydrates break down into single sugar molecules. They are absorbed into the bloodstream from the intestine and travel to the cells in all different parts of our bodies where they are used to provide energy for cellular functions. The trick is to consume the right kinds of carbohydrates in the proper amounts to optimize our fueling and reduce the risk of lifestyle diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Ideally, we are talking about minimally processed carbohydrates like whole grains (oats, whole wheat, barley, sorghum, freekeh, farro, quinoa, brown rice, etc.), plain dairy, beans, nuts, seeds, fruits and veggies.
How Much Sugar Should I Have a Day?
To start, there are added sugars and naturally occurring sugars. Sugars found in fruits, veggies and dairy products like milk and plain yogurt are naturally occurring. No one put them there. These do not count towards the recommended daily limit.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting the amount of added sugars you consume to no more than half of your daily discretionary calorie allowance. For most American women and kids over age 2, that’s no more than 100 calories per day or about 6 teaspoons of sugar. For men, it’s 150 calories per day or about 9 teaspoons. The AHA recommendations focus on all added sugars without singling out any particular types such as high-fructose corn syrup.
For reference, the average American consumes 19.5 teaspoons of sugar per day (that’s 82 grams which is over 3 times the recommended amount for women and kids) which equals 66 pounds of sugar per person per year! Yikes!
It’s important to understand how to determine how much sugar you are actually eating.
Sugar contains 4 calories per gram.
1 teaspoon of sugar contains 4 grams or 16 calories.
1 Tablespoon has 12 grams or 48 calories.
For reference, one 12 ounce can of cola contains 150 calories and 39 grams of added sugar. That’s more than the suggested amount for a man in a whole day AND we are only talking about one 12 ounce can. Most people drink more than that at a time…
Sugar is sugar is sugar. Honey, agave, maple syrup, coconut sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, brown rice syrup, sugar in the raw, molasses, turbinado…etc. are ALL 100% SUGAR. While some may contain a few extra vitamins or minerals, and some may SLIGHTLY differ in the effect on blood glucose, ultimately, each of these counts towards the amount of added sugars recommended in a day. It doesn’t make them bad, it just means you need to be aware of how much you consume.
When you see recipes online with a claim of “no refined sugar”, it’s meaningless.
Sure it sounds healthy, but remember, sugar is sugar is sugar. Likely, all those recipes contain at least one of the added sugars I mentioned earlier. Paleo Diet recipes are typically the ones that “allow” these unrefined sugars without worrying about the amount. Not kidding, I saw a recipe on Pinterest claiming, “No Sugar” Rice Krispy Treats and when I clicked I discovered it contains ½ cup brown rice syrup. Then I clicked on “Sugar Free” energy balls that feature molasses. Guess what? SUGAR! Don’t be fooled by false claims. Also, both of these bloggers/recipe developers were not registered dietitians so be cautious about where you source your information, too. Just because someone has a blog, it does not make them an expert in human nutrition.
The truth about fruit:
Fruit gets a bad wrap when it comes to sugar and it’s unfounded. Fruit contains very beneficial vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals and fiber that are very important for proper body functioning and disease prevention. Plus, all sugar in fruit is naturally occurring and does not count towards your suggested daily limit. If you have prediabetes, diabetes or your doctor is concerned about your blood sugar levels, don’t fear fruit, be smart about it. Stick to one serving at a time and pair it with foods containing protein and healthy fats like nuts or plain Greek yogurt/cottage cheese. Add fruit to salads, oatmeal, smoothies and other mixed meals to get the health benefit while minimizing the effect on blood sugar.
Check out this diabetes exchange list to see the recommended portion sizes for each type of fruit. Each serving contains about 15 grams of total carbohydrate. https://www.uaex.edu/publications/pdf/FSHED-86.pdf
The new food labels will make your detective work easier.
When they go into effect, you will find a new category of “added sugars” on the Nutrition Facts panel. Some companies have already adopted this label ahead of schedule. Aside from the obvious cookies, cake, candy, ice cream and sugar-sweetened beverages, look for added sugars in crackers, salad dressings, yogurt, cereal, marinades, condiments, pancakes, waffles, marinara sauce and much more.
Not all products are created equal and there are some amazing cereals, snacks and packaged foods with great nutritional stats and few added sugars. It just takes a little work to get used to evaluating the labels.
Do you ever wonder, “How much sugar should I have a day?” I'm sharing the truth about fruit and busting myths about all things SUGAR. Click To Tweet
This is basic information to clear up some of the confusion about the very common question, “How much sugar should I have a day?”
Please let me know if you have additional specific questions and I will try to answer them. A visit with a registered dietitian is a wonderful way to have someone review your current diet and suggest strategies and specific products to improve your food choices. And, it’s likely covered by your health insurance so find one today 🙂