Are You Consuming Too Much Sugar?


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  174 comments   :  101,424 Views

Sugar provides such sweet memories for me. As a child growing up, my mother would often sing the Mary Poppins song A Spoonful of Sugar as she was encouraging us to do tasks and chores we did not want to do. When we had hiccups, she would offer a spoonful of the sweet white granules to suck on to help them go away.

As we seek to make healthier lifestyle choices, it is important to understand the role nutrients like sugar play in our life. Earlier this year I introduced readers to the Life's Simple 7 assessment tool by the American Heart Association designed to help people evaluate their cardiovascular health. Part of the goals of that assessment included maintaining a diet low in sugar.

A study released last week in The Journal of the American Medical Association validated the idea that high sugar consumption plays just as much of a role in heart disease risks as dietary fats. The study found a strong correlation between sugar consumption and lipid profiles. Study individuals with higher sugar consumption appeared to have lower HDL and higher triglyceride levels. These are opposite of what has been found to be protective against heart disease. Average added sugar consumption in the study was over 21 teaspoons per day, which provides over 320 additional calories to daily calorie intake. In comparison, The American Heart Association recommends women limit added sugars to less than six and a half teaspoons (25 grams) per day while men are advised to include less than nine teaspoons (37.5 grams) of added sugars. The World Health Organization suggests diets include no more than 10 percent of caloric intake from added sugars and sweeteners. If we are going to reduce our added sugar intake, perhaps we need to take a closer look to understand what they are and where they come from.

Carbohydrates consist of sugar units called saccharrides. Simple carbohydrates contain either one (monosaccharide) or two (disaccharide) units of sugar that can be quickly broken down and digested. This can be beneficial if someone with diabetes is suffering from low blood sugar levels. It can also be detrimental because research indicates sugar surges trigger insulin responses, which can elevate appetite and excess fat storage. Complex carbohydrates must be broken down into simple sugars during digestion to be used by the body. Because of this factor, complex carbohydrates take longer to be processed by the body so sugar enters the blood stream more slowly. While the body may use simple sugars similarly, it is important to understand the difference between their sources.

Naturally occurring sugars are those that are found naturally in foods along with other important nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, or water. Fruits contain naturally occurring sugars called fructose while milk contains sugars known as lactose and those sugars help deliver nutrients necessary to promote health. Natural sugars are typically found in fresh fruit, 100% juice, milk and other whole food sources.

Added sugars are those that are not traditionally present in the food but added during processing to add or enhance flavor. Popular added sugars include table sugar, brown sugar, and high fructose corn syrup. Recently there has been a push for natural sweeteners such as honey, molasses, brown rice syrup and agave nectar. Regardless of whether it is an artificial or natural sweetener, if it is added to a food or beverage such as soft drinks, teas, candy, pies, cakes, cookies or canned fruits, it is an added sugar or sweetener.

It is important to be careful when evaluating your diet for sugar content. It is also necessary to understand what the Nutrition Facts Label is actually telling you related to carbohydrates, fiber, and sugar. The FDA guidelines require labeling of total carbohydrates with identification of what part of that total is fiber and what portion is sugar. Sugars on the nutrition facts label are "the weight in grams of all free monosaccharides and disaccharides in the food." It doesn't specify whether those free mono and di – saccharides are from naturally occurring or added sources only that they are present and in what amount. This is one reason why trying to track sugars on a nutrition tracker is difficult because all sugars are counted the same even though they would not all be considered nutritionally equal. If you are in the mood for a snack and you have three Oreo cookies, you would consume about three teaspoons of sugar with little other nutrients for use by the body. If you choose a serving of fresh strawberries instead, you would consume about 2 teaspoons of sugar along with a host of other health benefitting nutrients. One hundred percent apple juice and Coca Cola provide the same amount of sugar per ounce but very different accompanying nutrients.

Here are some tips to help you make your sugar intake as healthy as possible.

  • Try to select naturally occurring sugars whenever possible. Aim to keep added sugars to less than ten percent of your total calorie intake or around six and a half teaspoons for women and nine teaspoons for men per day. Although natural sugars may be on the marketing label, remember that cane or beet sugar, evaporated cane juice, brown rice syrup, and agave syrup are added sugars that should be limited.

  • When reading the Nutrition Facts Label, be sure to refer to the ingredients list to evaluate the source of the sugars that are reported. Remember the higher up on the list sugar is listed, the more sugar in the item. Some of the more common sugars include corn sweetener, dextrose, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, malt syrup, maltose and sucrose.

  • Soft drinks account for approximately half of the added sugar intake in the American diet as well as many other sugar filled juice and sports drinks, waters and teas. You can make a significant reduction in added sugar intake by eliminating sugar filled drinks in favor of water or milk. Although 100% juice is a nutrient rich naturally occurring sugar source, it is best to limit them to no more than one cup per day.

  • There are many ways to reduce your added sugar gradually which makes it easier to stick with it for success. If you are a cereal lover, look at your favorite and see if there is another option. For instance, perhaps you could switch to Cheerios that provides less than a teaspoon of sugar per bowl instead of Frosted Mini Wheats, which contains three teaspoon per serving. If you usually select sweetened applesauce, try switching to unsweetened instead.

  • We all get cravings for something sweet. Before you reach for candy, think about nutrient rich naturally sweet options such as dried fruits like raisins, dates, or prunes. Spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, ginger, mace and nutmeg can add sweetness as well. Be creative with sweet spices to trick the tongue without adding sugars.
One teaspoon of sugar contains approximately 4 grams and 16 calories. Although there are naturally occurring sources, many of us consume too much sugar from added sources, which isn't healthy.

Do you need to reduce your added sugar intake? What steps have worked for you or will you take to reduce your sugar intake?

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  • 124
    I am definitely an overachiever in sugar consumption. The biggest stride I have made is reducing the amount of soda I drink. I'm still dumping the sugar into coffee and tea, but the total 'sugars' are far lower than soda. - 5/4/2010   9:32:26 AM
  • 123
    For a sweet treat try freezing grapes, sweet cherries, or blueberries. Spread them on a cookie sheet and freeze individually, then bag and store in the freezer. Eating a handful is better than indulging in ice cream, and kids really like these on a hot day. - 5/4/2010   9:05:08 AM
    I think it's a little extreme to say sugar is "bad" and "addictive", although like everyone else I have been known to pig out on sweet foods now and then. One key is "now and then". Cake is fine as a treat, but if you're giving yourself a treat every day it's a habit. Another key thing for me is to eat only foods that I recognize or know what went into them -- in other words, stay out of the heavily processed and packaged junk. For breakfast today I had fresh strawberries with a little sprinkle of the evil sugar, scrambled farmer's market eggs with a wee bit of real butter, and some organic chicken sausage. And I'm not off track for my day's calorie goal at all. Moderation is where it's at, I think when we try to deny ourselves all the tasty stuff and eat low-fat/low-sugar artificial substitutes is where we get off track. - 5/4/2010   9:03:43 AM
  • 121
    I've never had much of a sweet tooth but, since having my children, I seem to have developed a craving for something sweet. I find the best way to deal with it is to give in a little to avoid going overboard. So every day after lunch, I'll have a Hershey's Special Dark with Almonds miniature. The dark chocolate is so much more satisfying than milk chocolate, and I can savor each little bite. It's a relatively small concession and keeps me on the healthy eating train. - 5/4/2010   9:01:15 AM
    My husband and I are on the Atkins diet. I would call it more of a lifestyle now. I started about the middle of December and he started at the end of January. It's now the beginning of May and together we have lost 85 pounds! Sugar is obviously bad for you and keeps the fat on! If you have no sugar for your body to burn, it goes for the stored fat. The best thing about this new lifestyle is that we no longer get the shakes when we need food. - 5/4/2010   8:53:26 AM
    I have been using Stevia for my morning coffee, but the brand I have is quite bitter and not at all sweet. So I usually just have a teaspoon of sugar in the coffee. I always read the labels to see how much sugar is in the food. if it's too much i put it back. My sweet tooth is getting better. I can usually pass the dessert tray without pangs of longing. I haven't eaten a cookie in years. don't like cake or ice cream anyway, or pie, especially those fast food pies, yuch! They taste so artificial. I'm eating a lot more apples and oranges and bananas these days. I have to be aware of the hidden sugars in dishes that friends and restaurants make. yeaterday I had pad thai and gained almost 2 lbs. It's everywhere, beware!
    Norma - 5/4/2010   8:52:35 AM
  • 118
    I try to be more concious about sugar - read the nutritional values. I opt for reduced or no sugar in my son's juice and apple sauce; don't drink soda; add sugar only to black tea and coffee, but don't drink these every day. I started experimenting with substituting sugar with apple sauce when baking (also don't bake that frequently). I have cut out chocolate and most other sweets. I do, however, like real ice cream :-) Overall, I think I'm doing alright, but wouldn't be surprised if that was too much. Will try to continue to be more concious, especially with my son. - 5/4/2010   8:43:54 AM
  • 117
    I agree with ImMaidMarian, but the problem doesn't go away once college stops. My husband works as an aide in a special education classroom, and every Friday is snacks day. The snacks have always been cookies, chips, or cakes. This week is Teacher Appreciation Week, so yesterday they got pizza, cake, buttered popcorn, and caramel corn.

    I am still in college, and as a graduate student I don't feel as much of the peer pressure, but I work as a graduate assistant in the Union, and my co-workers, who are adults and parents in their full careers, not just students, are also bad. Pigs-in-a-blanket or Krispy Kremes in the mornings or random cakes and cookies. If there is leftover ice cream or strawberry shortcake stuff from some event in the Union, it somehow finds its way to the break room next to my desk.

    I, too, drink my coffee black, and people think I'm seriously hard-core. I can't even go out for drinks with my friends without them looking at me like I'm nuts or a total lush if I don't order the extra-large strawberry-pineapple-mango frozen margarita with crystalized sugar instead of salt on the rim and go for something straight up. It's very much part of our culture. - 5/4/2010   8:32:25 AM
    I think the main issue is how socially acceptable sugar is. Try being a college student and reducing your sugar! Every morning there's coffee, and people gasp when you don't want sugar in it. Cookies, donuts, sugary breads, and pop tarts are everywhere around campus. What do you do when someone brings a box of Krispy Kreme's to a study group? When people want to go out for ice cream at the end of a test, do you join them? The problem is social. We eat as much as we do for social reasons and then, when we try to change, we find we're addicted. Between our cravings, and the people telling us we're silly for caring, we quickly give up and fall right back into the sugar addiction. - 5/4/2010   8:19:12 AM
  • 115
    When I wasn't getting amswers or help with my peromenopause from doctors, I read and researched altenatives to what was being presented to me. I cut out ALL sugar, except what occurs naturally in whole foods, what a tremendous relief! For 1.5 years my symptoms lessened by 87%. Is it hard, YES, however, I felt better! I had added raw, unfiltered honey I get locally, to my baking. It does not spike blood sugar, as well as Xylitol on occasion. - 5/4/2010   7:51:20 AM
  • 114
    I substitute Splenda for sugar whenever I can.
    - 5/4/2010   6:53:37 AM
  • 113
    I KNOW I'm a sugar addict!!!! Better than bein' a drunk!!!:)) - 5/4/2010   3:22:22 AM
  • 112
    I am a sugar addict, and probably need to go to rehab. - 5/4/2010   3:09:49 AM
  • 111
    I do not drink any softdrinks and never add sweeteners in tea or coffee. ;)
    I buy dairy with "fruittaste" and put fresh fruit in by myself.
    Selfmade-icecream with stevia is very tasty - 5/4/2010   2:04:57 AM
  • 110
    Ah.. sweet illicit lover! I'm not a soda person, nor chocolate or flavored sweetened coffee, but I am a baker/cook who loves to play with food. And sugar provides structural/reactive elements that can't be duplicated without it. And then, of course, one needs to eat the project. I guess maybe I should take up cross stitch instead.... - 5/3/2010   11:19:21 AM
  • 109
    My meals don't usually have added sugar. I don't like it. However, there are times when chocolate or something just has to be consumed. I am doing my best now to cut up small candies if I have to have something but it is a struggle. - 5/2/2010   9:54:17 PM
  • 108
    I won't drink anything with added sugar and have found a pinch of stevia is all I need in iced tea. I just don't like how huge amounts of sugar make me feel. - 5/2/2010   8:29:50 PM
  • 107
    Sugar is addictive. It is worse than smoking, drinking and maybe hard drugs, why?
    I think be cause it is so socially acceptable. Everyone thinks it is ok to use it and abuse it. But the long term use of it shows up later in our lives when we are going from dieting to permanent fitness plans and we have not looked at how our food is killing us. Read labels and see who has been out to kill you. And then, see how you participated in your own demise. Sorry, for the harsh warning...but as I face my late 50's with the kinds of health challenges I am trying to prevent....sugar is the ingredient that keeps me hooked, if I don't remain consicous of my choices. - 5/2/2010   8:19:47 PM
  • 106
    This is an excellent article but I do wish it would have addressed the issue of artificial sweeteners. They may be calorie friendly but they wreak havoc on the body and metabolism and add risk of cancer and other diseases. While we all want something sweet now and then, artificial sweeteners are just as bad, if not much worse, than the real thing! I am just trying to fulfill my sweet tooth with fruit, which works great if given the chance! I pop a strawberry or grape or chunk of pineapple in my mouth when I'm craving sweets and it takes thoughts of candy and chocolate and ice cream from my head. I used to use a lot of artificial sweeteners and experienced some ill effects from them. For me the key is just staying away from sweets unless they are in the form of fruit. - 5/2/2010   1:34:08 PM
  • 105
    I know I DO eat way too much sugar. Even now when I don't drink juices or sugar pop (have only just recently cut out diet pop), I don't do sugar cereal, etc. I try not to have too much coffee, just one cup a day or less but I can't have it without sugar and although I don't eat a whole lot of packaged items I never really thought about the sugar content. You have certainly given me something to think about, thanks. - 5/2/2010   9:23:25 AM
  • 104
    This was a good blog I did open my eyes. I am inddicted to sweets and once I start I have a hard time stoping. Trying to eat more fruites. - 5/2/2010   8:17:04 AM
  • 103
    I seldom eat food with more then three grams of added sugar.
    I do eat three or four pieces of fruit, whole grains and beans.

    Contrary to some common perceptions not all high carb
    people live on Twinkies, Pop Tarts and Pepsi.

    - 5/2/2010   7:41:57 AM
  • ROSE6040
    I don't normally add sugar to what I eat or drink, but since I have been reading food labels more closely, it is surprising how much sugar (and hidden sugar) is added to processed foods. Thank you for your insights. - 5/2/2010   1:42:51 AM
  • 101
    All the more reason that flavored milks with lots of added sugar should NOT be made available in schools. - 5/1/2010   3:40:49 PM
  • 100
    This is a very good article. I have never been someone who adds sugar to anything, but I forget to check whether it has been already added at the processing stage. Thanks for making me think. - 5/1/2010   1:07:20 PM
    I too am trying to cut down on my sugar intake -- I have been a sugar addict FOREVER. I know it's a hindrance to my diet. I switched to teas with different spices (like Yogi's Egyptian Licorice) so I don't need to add sugar. It's a tough switch, but I'm determined to not let sugar run my life! - 4/30/2010   11:10:03 PM
  • 98
    I rarely add sugar to anything, if I do, I use something like sweet & low. If I cook/bake I try to use the newer lower calorie sugars from Splenda. Family can't tell the difference - 4/30/2010   10:30:31 PM
  • 97
    I've been trying really hard to reduce my sugar intake also. I feel truely addicted to it. So far I've gotten headaches and lightheaded for 2-3 days after not eating refined sugar. I feel so great once I get past these 2-3 days, but unfortunately, it's really hard to stay away from! Then I stray from reducing it again becuase I don't want to go through 'withdrawl' again :( - 4/30/2010   9:52:59 PM
  • 95
    There is way to much sugar and if you don't learn to read packaging it slips into your foods everywhere. So beware go clean. - 4/30/2010   9:08:52 PM
    I'm glad I read this. I have been trying to find out how much sugar you can have per day. I never really ate sweets very much until the last few years, but now it seems that I crave something daily. Since Jan, I have been limiting that to about three X's per wk, Don't really drink sodas and try to read nutrition labels. try not to consume products with HFCS. I was pleased with some of the clarification between natural sugars etc. The other nite when the craving hit, I opted for eating some pineapple chunks and it did satisfy. Hopefully, I'm on the right track - 4/30/2010   5:10:03 PM
  • JAY75REY
    I am attempting to reduce sugar in my diet as well as highly refined carbs, but can't do it 100%. Since I'm pre-diabetic, I'm much more aware of the sugar and carbs I'm consuming than I used to be. I have cut back a lot on baked goods like cookies or pastries. But I still like candy of all sorts, not just chocolate. Moderation not abstinance at this time...counting the calories keeps me in check somewhat. I make myself write it down, even if it's a 1000 calorie dessert or a 500 calorie muffin! The reality shocks me back into sensible eating quickly. Beverages or sodas are not a problem for me. I almost never drink sugary drinks or any juices and don't add sugar to coffee or tea. I use sugar substitutes in cereal. - 4/30/2010   5:07:03 PM
  • 92
    Try Stevia its a natural plant that taste like sugar and has no calories, no frutose corn syrup and only 3g of carbs. You can google it on the internet to learn more about it and where to get it. I use it for my teas and oatmeal and anything else that i would have used regular sugar. - 4/30/2010   2:49:27 PM
  • 91
    I'm just using weigh too much sugar lately! Sometimes, when we are rushed, feeling stressed, frustrated, etc..etc..we seem (I do anyway) to grab the closest, easiest thing and sugar seems to be in most of those 'quick-grab', smarten up, me!! Ok, thanks..I needed that!! - 4/30/2010   2:19:51 PM
    I also have sugar issues when it comes to my coffee. 4 1/2 teaspoons per cup and 2 cups a day. I think it will be easier to stop the coffee period than to stop the sugar in the coffee. It leaves alot to think about. But is also a great eyeopener and gives me hope. - 4/30/2010   1:36:26 PM
  • 89
    I am probably a sugar addict. I have not had soda in over 2 years. I don't drink juice (unless I have a cold, and then it's 100% juice); I prefer whole fruit. I also gave up white pasta, white rice, and enriched bread for whole wheat pasta, brown rice, and whole wheat (whole wheat grain) bread.

    I do eat Kashi Cinnamon Wheat cereal, which is 5g sugar in each 1 c. serving. And I do love chocolate. I try to get dark chocolate, but I have's difficult. I don't eat cakes, cookies, or pies. I do like ice cream, but can abstain from ice cream for months at a time (summer is hardest to resist ice cream, IMO). I don't eat many processed foods anymore, but I still love potato chips and tortilla chips; I try to save them for the weekend treat, instead of everyday consumption.

    Sigh. It's difficult to cut back to only 25 g. sugar per day. I shudder to think what my daily sugar consumption is. - 4/30/2010   1:32:41 PM
  • 88
    I am a sugar addict and I know it. I can go for quite awhile on low or moderate amounts of sugar but several times a year I go on a sugar binge to the point where I am actually sick of it. Then I can do without a problem for a few months.

    I am OK after I get tired of it for awhile but suddenly I will crave it to the extent that I don't want anything but candy...pure sugar. So far I have escaped the diabetes that runs in my family probably because I am a very healthy eater when not on a sugar binge. All of my blood work is perfect and I am only about 10/15 pounds over my perfect weight. I will be 80 this summer so evidently it hasn't done too much damage. I do not use chemical substitutes for it, drink any soda or smoke..and I eat limited amounts of good MUFA fats as well as eggs. I am not on any prescriptions and if I can cut down on my candy fests I might be here for a
    few more years yet!!! - 4/30/2010   1:30:48 PM
    No--watch what I eat - 4/30/2010   1:02:21 PM
  • 86
    The only sugar I consume on a regular basis is the brown sugar I put on my oatmeal each morning, otherwise I use artificial sweeteners in almost everything else I eat. - 4/30/2010   12:42:06 PM
  • 85
    I honestly have never paid too much attention to sugar in my diet...although I do crave carbs like cake and pastries. It seems overwhelming - there is so much to look for! - 4/30/2010   12:12:07 PM
  • 84
    When I started my diet a couple of years ago, I cut out all added sugars, artificial sweeteners, white flour, soda, and processed food for two weeks. I found I could do without very well, and now just occasionally indulge. Eating sweets does give you the craving for more. - 4/30/2010   11:51:13 AM
  • 83
    On a day-to-day basis sugar consumption is not a big problem. What is an issue for me is that when I DO have something sweet, it's way too easy to go over board. The trick will be figuring out how to indulge smartly-- that is to say how to enjoy the sugary sweet without having the inflammatory effects from overloading the liver with the fructose processing. - 4/30/2010   11:31:17 AM
  • 82
    I havent ate sugar in over 5 yrs!
    Dont miss it at all! - 4/30/2010   10:58:05 AM
    Fructose has been linked to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. I think it's folly to rely on sweetened soft drinks (which the study involved) for hydration. - 4/30/2010   10:13:14 AM
  • 80
    I've cut out almost all added sugars along with white flours & rice. I will occasionally use a quarter teaspoon of honey(from my sis, who raises bees) in a cup of tea, which soothes the throat & adds trace nutrients plus half again more sweetness than 1/4 t. regular white sugar. No sugar substitutes for me, tho hubby uses them - they increase my appetite, & some give me headaches, plus most taste terrible. I bake much less than we used to, use more spices like cinnamon & substitute unsweetened applesauce for much of the sugar plus use honey for any extra sweetness needed. I use fresh fruit for dessert & snacks most days. Nuts & dry fruit & popcorn are replacing the hard candy & chips we used to use as travel nibbles in the car. Chocolate is my nemesis. Had stopped using sweetened cereals until Cheerios came out with a chocolate multigrain version - they are so good! Good news is I substitute them for the Dark M&Ms I had been craving at night, & that usually works OK. Bad news is I want them for breakfast also. I'm a work in progress, I guess. - 4/30/2010   9:58:01 AM
  • 79
    Simply put - YES I am. - 4/30/2010   9:36:02 AM
  • 78
    It has been a on going process. One minute things are going well and then not so well. I love tea and have been trying to use less sugar when having a cup. I went out and brought Agave which is ok. I will continue to work at it. Never giving up. - 4/30/2010   8:50:50 AM
  • 77
    I'm surprised it has taken this long to figure out that there is a correlation between sugar and lipid levels. Over 20 years ago my mom was told that she had high cholesterol, so she was leaving off eggs, high fat foods and all the other traditional foods that were known to increase cholesterol levels. It wasn't working. When she went through a period where she quit eating sweets, her cholesterol dropped significantly. - 4/30/2010   8:39:33 AM
  • 76
    I don't drink sodas, don't eat typical cereals, and usually use a substitute for my coffee. I need to improve on reading labels, otherwise I'm not too far off. - 4/30/2010   8:10:19 AM
  • 75
    I have a crazy sweet tooth! As much as I try to tame it, I usually end up having something sweet every day. :( However, I have weaned myself from sweetened drinks and I don't like the taste of them now. - 4/30/2010   7:59:46 AM

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