Are You Consuming Too Much Sugar?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
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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KHALIA2 9/24/2019
Great Article! Thanks! Report
sugar is my kryptonite!
It does take a few weeks to withdrawal and the cravings to subside
BUT for me 1 is too much and 100 is not enough when it comes to anything with sugar. I have found a chocolate bar made with stevia that does not cause me any cravings. I can have a small piece and set it down and forget it. If I had one with sugar it would set me off and the cravings would be unbearable. Report
KHALIA2 6/27/2019
Great info! Report
Great article. Thank you Report
Great article! Thanks! Report
I attended a pre diabetes series of lectures led by a specialized RN and a registered dietician. It was a huge help and motivsted me to my inutial 18 pound loss. That was three years ago. Since then I have gained some of that back, and need a tune up. These sessions are offered by OHIP, free, after a doctors referral. I love honey in my coffee - so less is my rule. Report
I attended a pre diabetes series of lectures led by a soecualized RN and a regustered dietician. It was a huge help and motivsted me to my inutial 18 pound loss. That was three years ago. Since then I have gained some of that back, and need a tune up. These sessions are offered by OHIP, free, after a doctors referral. Report
Always a good reminder. Report
Great article! I am now working on my sugar habits. I drink my coffee without sugar. Report
Thank you for this valuable information. Report
According to Dr. Ben Kim, your body only "needs" one teaspoon of sugar circulating in your blood for all regular activities. Report
Always stunned to see just how much sugar gets into my diet and I really don't eat refined carbs at all. Report
New food labels will be showing the added sugar in foods soon.
This should help in deciding what is best to eat and how much we are really consuming. Report
Go ketogenic. I fast between 7pm and 12 noon every day. If I feel hungry, good! That means it's working. My diet: no sugar, no wheat or other grains (sprouted grain bread is ok), no fruit. If I am tempted to eat bread, I just think of the words "wheat belly" and I remember what it feels like after I eat grains. Look up ketogenic diet. Report
Hello. My name is Sue and I am a sugar whore! I live for sugar...I've tried carb free and all that happens is when I lose as much as I wanted, I end u gaining back 2 times as much. Sugar effects my attitude, I become like Jekyll and Hyde! How do I dump the sugar blues and stay away for good????

Sugar is my problem Report
my only hope now concerning sugar addiction is inundating myself with the very things i shouldn't be eating - until i am thoroughly turned off! I've used this concept before with smoking and other addictions. after overindulging in something I enjoy, i somehow "turn off" - eventually? Report
I have Easi-yo yoghurt and feel sanctimonious when my lunch is 1/2 bowl and ,my fruits to make about 3 with that BUT now it seems I am having too much sugar, none in tea or on cereal or porridge - so what do I do? I love my yoghurt - it is my big treat of the day. Report
I am a sugar person but I have been making healthy choices since January 29,13 I gave up almost everything that had excessive amounts of sugar in there products don't have to go in details but I'm sure you know what I mean !! The only problem is my coffee in the morning ,I can't drink it without sugar but I have one cup a day and that cuts down on my sugar intake ,the other stuff I don't have it in my house no see, no do ,I have lost 18 pounds and just doing that helped a lot ,so I'm on my way to a no sugar life almost ,lol,!! Report
I like sugar, and certainly I'm not above liking simple carb food items, but these days I'm trying to do much better about eating fruits instead of simple carbs because otherwise I can't get my nutrition categories to add up correctly. My biggest past downfall (an addiction I have had on-again, off-again) is Mountain Dew. Talk about a sugar problem! Report
I have a significant sugar problem. It started when I was a kid. I can remember buttering bread and coating it with sugar and eating 2 or three slices of bread like this. I can remember loading my rice crispies with sugar (or cheerios, or [insert any cereal here]). Now, I reach for the same cookies each morning at the gas station and wash them down with a 20 oz bottle of mountain dew. When I was pregnant with my daughter, all I wanted was sugar. cookies, cakes, donuts, mountain dew, ice cream, etc. I have a serious sugar issue and I don't know how to tackle it... I don't know if I have the motivation, the drive or the discipline to tackle it. And it has me quite worried... Report
I have found water and a touch of real lemon juice helps me stay away from sugary drinks Report
I could echo everything others have said here... I'm currently on a "mini binge" with sugary food being MUCH too much of my daily caloric intake. I MUST stop cold turkey. Really, for me, nothing else is effective. Report
I am NOT a sugar addict at all....but I have been monitoying my sugar intake as one of my goals is to take in LESS . THAT has not been easy. But monitoring most of the sugar I injest is natural occuring in the foods I eat. That sugar, is not as bad as ADDED sugar in processed ....LESS processed foods as well! Report
i'm certainly an addict in shifts: many times i have to have some, other times i don't have much. i've learned that if i have sugar early a.m. (aka, cinnamon twists from my local kolache place), then i rarely want any more later in the day. coffee is the only time i add sugar, or to strawberries just to get them juicing slightly, i never add to anything else. though i admit a weakness to honey in my tea, the only other real sugar i use these days. i've reduced the amount i eat pretty well, and i'm working on reducing it more. i went off the wagon a while back, but i'm getting there and trying to reduce my intake quite a bit. Report
Yep, I'm a sugar addict too. I noticed that when I ate sugar that within 30 minutes my fingers would start to ache. I've been limiting my sugar to coffee in the am and beyond that I try to satisfy my sweet tooth via fruit. It has helped a lot, and my joints are hurting much less. Report
Although this article was interesting, there is so much information and conflicting information at that. All this information tends to leave people really confused about what is what, how one thing affects another and so on it goes. I go by a rule of thumb--eat natural, not alot of processed food and watch my portions. Any thing other than that will make you crazy. Report
First & foremost, GREAT article. Mahalo for bring this subject to center stage. It gave me, as well as (I'm sure) many others some good insight & something to think about. I now find myself questioning my diet even more! I don’t drink soda, at least not on an every day basis. MAYBE once a week but it’s more like twice a month. I also don’t drink coffee or tea as a staple in my ‘diet’. 9 out of 10, it’s water. There is no candy in my house, but I confess to having a ‘mini’ snickers (the bite size ones) some times as much as 3 times a week. Now I wonder if that is too much. The article also really made me realize that I have to make a switch, it’s going to take some will power & determination but now when I want sweets, I have to go for watermelon or strawberries (fruit!) instead of junk. Mahalo again for bringing these things to light for me!!

I also want to comment on another members post in response to this article. I agree, I would like to know how the sweetener substitutes compare to each other & their impact on our sugar intake but belittling the author is absolutely unnecessary. I would think it’s also common sense that drinking even diet soda will pack on pounds. Learn a little self control Report
I was looking for an answer to "how much sugar is okay?" when I read this article.
It was most helpful. I try to stick to lots of fruits and veggies and stay away from processed food to maintain my weight. Report
I always try to be mindful of my sugar intake.....I drink my herbal teas without......and in baked goods....i control portions. Report
This was a great article and very informative. I am pretty good with the "no added sugar" but not so good when it comes to chocolate, I will usually have maybe 3-4 hershey's kisses or something similar when a craving hits (almost every other day). Do you think that sugar craving has something to do with hunger or thirst? Report
Yes I am addicted to sugar and I am still struggling to turn this around. I am in the cycle were I want something with lots of sugar and then this just makes me want more. I am try so hard but it is a huge struggle for me. Report
For individuals using high blood pressure medication, Stevia can lower blood pressure, so make sure your blood pressure doesn't go too low if you use both. Report
WOW. I actually have coffee with my sugar. It is definitely time to make a change. I have control of my sweet intake when it comes to food. I am out in left field when it comes to drinking sweet (sodas, fruit punch). Thanks for the eye opener. Report
I hate to have to say this, but your article, though no doubt true and informative about the dangers of excess added sugar in our diets (contrary to the "low-fat" craze of the '80s and '90s), unfortunately isn't all that helpful to those of us who already figured that much out.

The trouble, as you correctly suggest, is that for the most part we really don't have any way of knowing exactly how much "added sugar" (vs. "naturally occurring" sugar) we are actually ingesting, as that information is not generally disclosed on food labels.

So, all this really tells me is the same old wisdom anyone would have instinctively said 50 years ago: avoid "sweets," meaning cakes, cookies, candy, ice cream and similar deserts and snacks, and soda pop, Kool-aid and similar sugar-filled soft drinks, in favor of fresh fruits and (100%) juices and other foods.

The point is, we all keep reading article after article containing nothing other than age-old, re-hashed information which most of us instinctively know to begin with, precisely because we all keep secretly hoping that some "new study" will tell us that we actually can indulge at least some specific weakness of ours, so long as we "do X." Unfortunately, deep down we all know that it doesn't work that way - if it did, most of us would not be reading these articles or posts, because we would no longer have any problem.

So, I would posit that it would be far more helpful to most of us if you published articles focusing on how to reduce our sugar or fat intake, etc. without feeling deprived. Personally, I find that I have a much harder time cutting sugar and similar carbs out of my diet than fat - so I'm basically looking for tips on how to do so without suffering for it. Basically speaking, what that translates into is:

1. How to avoid taste cravings;
2. How not to wind up feeling hungry; and
3. How to avoid feeling lethargic, lacking in energy and unmotivated.

I believe we all know too well the significance of the above three points as well: namely, that they lead us to eat more - both in terms of amounts and in terms of calories - in an effort to compensate.

I would also appreciate more information on the effects (and efficacy) of substituting artificial sweeteners for sugar, as I did so several years ago (in the form of substituting "diet" beverages for regular ones) and, despite the calorie savings, not only have not lost weight - in fact, I've SINCE GAINED WEIGHT AND HAVE FOUND IT VIRTUALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO TAKE IT EVEN SIGNIFICANT PORTION OF IT OFF.

Frankly, I'm beginning to think that I just wind up eating more - especially in the form of desert foods - to compensate. And, since the desert foods also tend to be high in fat content, they pack on far more calories - EVEN IN SMALL AMOUNTS - than the pint or os of sugary drinks I used to consume. Report
I just finished the lab that originally led me to SparkPeople: I had to log my suger, sat fat, poly and mono unsat fat, cholesterol, and sodium for five days. Then we had to look up answers on the effects of these chemicals. I did the logging back in Febuary, but just finished up the answers about 2 hours ago! One of the questions was about suger leading to heart disease. Well, I lost the report already (stupid computer), but I'll let you know what my reasearch says once I find it again! Email me if you're interested.

I too am a MAJOR suger addict, starting with white carbs and binging on cake and icecream when we had it at birthdays during childhood. Now I grab donuts and starbucks bottles when I'm stressed (especially this last week of the semester) I don't drink soda, never have much before and gave it up for good on the First of the Year. My theory is: Back to Basics. Organic fruits and veggies, whole grains, and as little processing as possible. Other than that, moderation! Not strict, and not habit, not starving and not binging. A steak here, a cake slice there, with some time inbetween, and not over your limit of calories, fat, or carbs! Good luck everybody! Report
thanks for this post. It helped me not suck down the undissolved sugar on the bottom of my coffee! Report
Good article - and for me very timely. I love to bake and taste the things I make. Also like to dip chocolate candies if I have the audience to eat them. But I have found I can stop the sweets "cold turkey" and get along just fine.
Dried apricots are great for an after dinner sweet. Report
I try to watch everything I eat. Drives my roommate crazy. I'm diabetic, and glucose intolerant as well, and she's said she'd shoot herself if ever she had to eat the way I eat. That being said, I do have a chocolate habit. It's controlled, though. I allow myself two small squares from a chocolate bar a day. That's enough to quash the cravings, but doesn't trigger a binge. I keep it in the fridge, and I take out those two squares and put the rest back. That way, it's going to last much longer, too. There's no feeling of "I can't have it" because I can. I choose to limit what I have. I haven't had sugar in my tea since I was sixteen, and I'm fifty-two now. Baked goods could be my downfall, but I'm disciplined there, too: the cookies are in the freezer, so if I want one, I have to dig them out and warm one in the microwave. I make sure they're pretty much buried, too, so that if I'm getting one out, I *really* want it. I go for low sugar, high fibre cereals, too, and bake with whole grains whenever it's possible. Report
Just wondering why they mention high-fructose corn syrup, but not regular corn syrup. They're not the same thing are they? Report
I looooovvvvvveee sugar. When I feel down sugar makes me feel happier. When I'm happy and have sugar, it makes me feel satisfied. I wonder if it makes me feel depressed overall though?! How true is this? I definetally need to cut back. Report
Having been on Spark, I've come to the conclusion that the 3 things I need most for a complete diet are: Protien. Healthy Fats. Complex Carbs. And water. Nothing else required. Works for me. Of course, I did have to do a 'clean sweep' of my kitchen and give away a lot of food that did not fit into the above 'tri-fecta'. Blessings and eat what your body needs......... Report
I am so glad I received this article today. I am going off of sugar and white flour today and needed the encouragement. I am working today and tomorrow at Harry and David and they leave bowls of truffles, baklava and cookies for us to munch on. Sugar makes me depressed and I feel every ache in my body when I am consuming sugar in my diet. It puts the weight on fast too. It is hard to stay off of it, I seem to be able to for about 3 months and I lose weight and then I take one bite and I am a gunner. But I so needed this today. Thanks! Report
I try to eat as little as possible, but am not as conscience of it as I should be. I do not consume it in drinks. So that helps! But I love my chocolate. I drink water mostly and try to cut it out in my foods. Report
I am wondering about Spenda or other sugar substitutes...seems there is quite a controversy over them. I was forced to cut out all sugars in the year 2001 due to long term high dose antibiotic treatment for late stage lyme disease that lasted 3.5 add sugar to that would have made the yeast infections worse than they already were. I started to use Splenda then, found ways to cook with it for my family and self; but recently have been concerned over 'reports' of its activation in Type 2 Diabetes?? and I have no idea about heart disease...Does anyone know about this...can SPARK clear up this controversy???

I never went back to sugar after treatment was over, but I do use Splenda daily...and what is excess with a sugar substitute???? 6 tsp..16???just very curious Report
I do not use much sugar. What I do get is in food that is already prepared. Report
how come you guys aren't mentioning stevia - its all natural and it doesn't effect your blood sugar? Report
Thank you very much for a well written article. I had not realized there was a connection between sugar intake and heart health; now I will watch my sugar intake more carefully. Report
I grew up in a home that didn't have much sugar in the diet. Bottom line, we couldn't afford it. Kool-Aid was made with 1/4 the recommended amount, fruit was canned with only enough sugar to prevent it from turning brown and even baked goods had less sugar than recipes called for. I've never really had a sweet tooth. However, I love homemade bread - especially white - and dark chocolate. I also crave other sugars at times and like I did as a child, I watch how much I take in. My real strong cravings though have always been salt, which I'll choose any day over sugar. I also choose sour over sugar, as I love my lemon juice in water without any sweetner added. My one sweet spot is honey. I do love my honey. Report
Yes sugar is very addictive...I drink anywhere from 2 to 4 cups of coffee and I like to dump at least two teaspoons into my morning coffee - and these teaspoons are more like heapings! So I probably take in at least 8 to 16 teaspoons. I was using low calorie sweetners but the craving for sugar became too strong. I guess the next thing to omit is coffee? another addiction.
But yes I remember I cut off sugar in my coffee for three months and used sweetners during that time, and I also walked for one hour at least three times a week...I lost about 5 lbs just doing that, so yes I need to cut down on sugars and sweets. I am not a big fan of candy, chocolate bars or carbonated drinks but crave for salty chips once in awhile.
This article was a good review of how much sugar is lurking around/inside our foods, thanks for the article. Report