Added sugar is the single worst ingredient in the modern diet.
It provides calories with no added nutrients and can damage your metabolism in the long run.
Eating too much sugar is linked to weight gain and various diseases like obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
But how much is too much? Can you eat a little bit of sugar each day without harm, or should you avoid it as much as possible?
It is very important to make the distinction between added sugars and sugars that occur naturally in foods like fruits and vegetables.
These are healthy foods that contain water, fiber and various micronutrients. Naturally occurring sugars are absolutely fine, but the same does not apply to added sugar.
Added sugar is the main ingredient in candy and is abundant in many processed foods, such as soft drinks and baked products.
The most common added sugars are regular table sugar (sucrose) and high-fructose corn syrup.
If you want to lose weight and optimize your health, you should do your best to avoid foods that contain added sugars.
Summary Sugar that’s added to processed foods is much worse than natural sugar in whole foods like fruits and vegetables.
In 2008, people in the US were consuming over 60 pounds (28 kg) of added sugar per year — and this does not include fruit juices ().
The average intake was 76.7 grams per day, which equals 19 teaspoons or 306 calories.
According to this study, sugar consumption went down by 23% between the years 2000 and 2008, mainly because people drank fewer sugar-sweetened beverages.
However, current intake levels are still way too high and probably haven’t changed since then. In 2012, the average adult intake was 77 grams per day ().
Summary Excessive sugar intake is common. It’s been linked with various lifestyle diseases, including obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question. Some people can eat a lot of sugar without harm, while others should avoid it as much as possible.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the maximum amount of added sugars you should eat in a day are ():
- Men: 150 calories per day (37.5 grams or 9 teaspoons)
- Women: 100 calories per day (25 grams or 6 teaspoons)
To put that into perspective, one 12-oz can of Coke contains 140 calories from sugar, while a regular-sized Snickers bar contains 120 calories from sugar.
In contrast, the US dietary guidelines advise people to limit their intake to less than 10% of their daily calorie intake. For a person eating 2,000 calories per day, this would equal 50 grams of sugar, or about 12.5 teaspoons (8).
If you are healthy, lean and active, these seem like reasonable amounts. You’ll probably burn off these small amounts of sugar without them causing you any harm.
But it’s important to note that there is no need for added sugars in the diet. The less you eat, the healthier you will be.
Summary The American Heart Association advises men to get no more than 150 calories from added sugar per day and women no more than 100 calories.
If you are overweight, obese or diabetic, you should probably avoid sugar as much as possible.
In that case, you should not be consuming sugar every day, more like once per week or once every two weeks (at most).
But if you want to be as healthy as possible, you really shouldn't be consuming foods that have sugar added to them.
Soft drinks, baked goods and processed foods have no place in the diet of someone who is overweight.
Stick to real, single-ingredient foods and avoid processed foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates.
Summary Overweight or obese people should avoid eating added sugar every day. If possible, it would be best to avoid all added sugar.
Sugary junk foods stimulate the same areas in the brain as drugs of abuse ().
For this reason, sugar can cause people to lose control over their consumption.
That said, sugar is not nearly as addictive as drugs of abuse, and “sugar addiction” should be comparatively easy to overcome.
If you have a history of binge eating, failure at setting rules about your eating (like cheat meals or days) and repeated failures with the "everything in moderation" approach, then perhaps you are addicted.
In the same way that a smoker needs to avoid cigarettes completely, a sugar addict needs to avoid sugar completely.
Complete abstinence is the only reliable way for true addicts to overcome their addiction.
Summary If you feel like you are addicted to added sugar, you should consider avoiding it completely.
Avoid these foods, in order of importance:
- Soft drinks: Sugar-sweetened beverages are unhealthy. You should avoid these like the plague.
- Fruit juices: Fruit juices actually contain the same amount of sugar as soft drinks! Choose whole fruit instead of fruit juice.
- Candies and sweets: You should drastically limit your consumption of sweets.
- Baked goods: Cookies, cakes, etc. These tend to be very high in sugar and refined carbohydrates.
- Fruits canned in syrup: Choose fresh fruits instead.
- Low-fat or diet foods: Foods that have had the fat removed from them are often very high in sugar.
Drink water instead of soda or juices and don't add sugar to your coffee or tea.
Instead of sugar in recipes, you can try things like cinnamon, nutmeg, almond extract, vanilla, ginger or lemon.
Just be creative and find recipes online. You can eat an endless variety of amazing foods even if you eliminate all sugar from your diet.
A natural, zero-calorie alternative to sugar is stevia.
Summary Reduce your sugar intake by limiting soft drinks, fruit juice, candy, and baked goods.
The best way to cut back on sugar is to simply avoid processed foods and satisfy your sweet tooth with fruit instead.
This approach doesn't require math, calorie counting or obsessively reading food labels all the time.
However, if you're simply unable to stick to unprocessed foods for financial reasons, then here are some tips on how to make the right choices:
- Know that sugar has many names. These include sugar, sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), dehydrated cane juice, fructose, glucose, dextrose, syrup, cane sugar, raw sugar, corn syrup and more.
- If a packaged food contains sugar in the first 3 ingredients, avoid it.
- If a packaged food contains more than one type of sugar, avoid it.
- Be aware that other high-sugar foods often labeled healthy fall into the same category. These include agave, honey, organic cane sugar and coconut sugar.
Warning: You MUST read nutrition labels! Even foods disguised as "health foods" can be loaded with added sugars.
Summary If you eat processed, packaged foods, avoiding all added sugar can be difficult. Make sure to read labels and be aware that food producers often disguise added sugar using alternative names.
At the end of the day, it's important to figure out the sugar intake that’s right for you.
Some people can handle a little bit of sugar in their diet, while for others it causes cravings, binge eating, rapid weight gain and disease.
Every individual is unique and you need to figure out what works for you.