There is a new villain in the world of food: sugar. But how much sugar is too much? Is sugar toxic? Or is a little okay?
The recent scrutiny of sugar is the result of a flurry of new studies linking sugar, particularly sugar consumed in sweet beverages, to weight gain, heart disease and diabetes. One meta-analysis (a report that looks at the results of multiple studies) found that for every 12-oz. serving of a sugar-sweetened beverage you drink each day, there is a 15% increase in the risk for diabetes. Another report found people consuming at least two sugary beverages a day had a 35% increase in the risk of heart attack vs. those who drank less than one per month.
But is sugar toxic? Not in modest amounts. In fact, some sugar is important in our diet. After all, this is the primary fuel used by the body to give us energy. Naturally occurring sugars are found in many healthy foods including fruits, veggies, and plain low fat milk and dairy. However it’s the “added sugars” that are the problem – they are not just empty calories. They may also be increasing your risk for obesity and weight-related illnesses.
Sugar goes by many names, so figuring out if the product you’re buying has a lot of added sugar is not as easy as it sounds.
To determine if a product has added sugar, check the ingredient list for these words: brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, molasses, honey, invert sugar, lactose, maltose, evaporated cane juice, molasses, raw sugar, sucrose, syrup and table sugar. Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. Those in the largest amounts are listed first. So if the ingredient list looks something like: fructose, fruit juice concentrate, evaporated cane juice, you may want to put that product back on the shelf!
How to Manage Sugar in Your Diet
Of course it’s unrealistic for most people to completely abstain from added sugars. And a sweet treat on occasion is fine for healthy individuals. But with so many products adding in crazy amounts of sugar, it’s important to be vigilant. Here is a quick guide to managing added sugar:
- Women: Limit added sugars to 100 calories or less per day (that’s about 6 teaspoons)
- Men: Limit added sugars to 150 calories or less per day (that’s about 9 teaspoons)
- If you currently drink sugary beverages, stop.
- Read nutrition labels. The marketing of food can be very deceptive. Don’t just look for high-fructose corn syrup. Look for other potential added sugars as well (see list above). Look at the “Sugars” number on a products Nutrition Facts panel. It will tell you how many grams of added sugars are in each serving. Multiply this number by 4 to get the number of calories from sugar.
I know what your thinking… “Sounds great Katherine, but I have a lust for sweets that just won’t quit!” Not to worry! Appetite for Health has the answer for that problem too! Check out Julie’s recent post, “How to Lick Your Sweet Tooth”.