How much sugar is too much?

Whenever I start with a new client who’s primary goal is fat loss, I ask her to food journal. To write down everything she eats and drinks for a minimum of five days (but preferably for two complete weeks).

During this time, I suggest that she make no dramatic changes to her diet, so that we can generate a reasonably accurate view of what’s she eating. Until we know what her diet consists of, it’s hard to know what needs to be changed. (Many people find this challenging, as they’re excited to start moving toward their health and fitness goals and a bit embarrassed to share their love of chocolate, red wine and/or Lucky Charms…)

Most of my clients use MyFitnessPal, an online food tracking program, to record their meals and snacks. In addition to calculating daily calorie intake, MyFitnessPal also provides information about where those calories are coming from (carbohydrates, fats and proteins) and the number of grams of sugar consumed each day.

how much sugar is too much

Note that I was ‘over’ on sugar for the day, but only consumed 15 g of refined sugar…

Often, even before the baseline tracking period has ended, most clients will shoot me an email asking ‘how much sugar’ they should be consuming. Many of them are shocked to see that they’re consuming 100 or more grams of sugar daily and want to know how much sugar is too much.

At this point, I explain that sugars come from a variety of sources. Natural sugars exist in fruits, vegetables, dairy and grains. Our bodies use them for fuel. While natural sugars contribute to the daily sugar totals that MyFitnessPal provides, they are not the sugars that we’re primarily concerned with.

Instead, we need to focus our attention on the sugars added to foods and beverages during processing. These ‘added sugars’ include all refined sugars, corn syrups, honey, agave, cane sugar and maple syrup.

how much sugar is too much

A better question, then would be, ‘what’s the recommended daily intake of added sugar?’

Unlike for vitamins and minerals, there is no RDI for added sugar. Obviously, the less we consume, the better.

However, the general consensus among nutritionists and health organizations recommends limiting added sugar consumption to no more than 25 to 30 g per day. Regularly consuming more can result in elevated blood glucose levels, fat storage, insulin resistance and diabetes. And we all know how addictive sugar can be

Because MyFitnessPal doesn’t differentiate between the sugars that occur NATURALLY in foods and the sugars ADDED to food during processing and packaging, it becomes necessary to track added sugar intake another way; by reading ingredient lists and nutrition labels (something we should all be doing anyways).

how much sugar is too much

Some short-cuts to reduce added sugar intake?

  • Pay attention to the various forms of sugar that are added to your foods; maltose, dextrose, sucrose, fructose-glucose (probably the worst one out there for us). If there are multiple forms of added sugar in the ingredient list, you’re probably better off not eating it (or limiting your serving size and/or the frequency with which it’s consumed).
  • Keep a running daily total of your sugar intake from processed foods (including alcohol and the sugar or honey you add to your coffee and tea). You can do this instead of OR in addition to food tracking on MyFitnessPal, depending on your health goals and how crazy food tracking makes you. When you hit your own personal RDI (25-30 g) for the day, STOP.
  • Limit your consumption (and purchase) of foods which have any form of added sugar as one of the top five ingredients. Food manufacturers must list ingredients in the order of their contribution (by volume) to the food in question. The higher the ingredient on the ingredient list, the more of it in the food you’re eating.
  • Plan your added sugar intake for the day BEFORE you’re faced with the option of consuming it. When my family goes out to eat, I always check the dessert menu first. If one of my favourite desserts is listed, I’ll skip the wine. For me, dessert and wine is an either-or thing because they’re both high in added sugar.
  • Identify one or two high sugar foods that you’re consuming regularly. Aim to reduce the frequency with which you eat them or eliminate them entirely. A can of soda has upwards of 40 g of added sugar. Simply eliminating your daily soda (or other sugary treat) may be all that’s required to bring your added sugar intake down to a reasonable level (meaning that you won’t need to worry as much about the smaller amounts of sugar added to products like yogurt, spaghetti sauce and salad dressing).

One final note; many people believe that they should reduce their intake of fresh fruit to reduce their sugar consumption. For the most part, eating too much fruit is not the reason why people need to lose weight…. 🙂

What’s your best tip for reducing added sugar?

Share a link to a low- or no-sugar dessert with me?

 

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Comments

  1. It’s amazing how much hidden sugar is in things! I kept getting the shakes and finally I figured out it was from added sugars in my protein!
    Brittany @ Delights and Delectables recently posted…Charleston Adventures, Part 2My Profile

  2. Excellent. It would amaze me when I slightly overweight, but hard working teen athlete would show up for a workout with an Arizona Ice Tea for pre-workout energy. I actually had several girl who did this. I explained that at 67grams per can, uhm, Lance Armstrong didn’t need that for a pre-workout.

    Salad dressing, and sauces are also huge. Not point in choosing a McDonald’s chicken salad over a Big Mac, if the packet of ranch dressing it comes with has 16grams of sugar, and 22 grams of fat.
    Contemplative Fitness recently posted…Defective Personality…My Profile

    • You’re so right. I did read somewhere that the reason so few fast food places (including McDonalds) offer really healthy alternatives is because (surprise, surprise), their customers don’t actually buy them. Even those customers who complain about the lack of healthy options…

  3. Just had this conversation with a friend of mine a few weeks ago. She thought the 25-30g per day was your total sugar intake and was shocked to see how much sugar was in yogurt. Glad you wrote this blog to clarify. I also find it frustrating when people blame fruit (I eat tons of it) although it came as an eye opener to me when the book “fat, sugar, salt” pointed out that one of the ways manufacturers sneak sugar into foods that claim “no added sugars” is by adding fruit juice concentrate. I now watch out for that one on ingredient lists as well.

    • Good call on the fruit juice concentrate Melody. I don’t buy very many things with this ingredient in them, but I’ll be keeping my eyes open now!

  4. GREAT post Tamara! It shouldn’t surprise me but always does that people have no clue how many sugar grams or even sodium in their foods – still not reading the labels.. that would be my tip for anyone buying ANYTHING in a package & we all have to buy things in bags, boxes & packages even healthy things – people don’t stop to read because everything that looks healthy is not always healthy. 🙂

    I noticed the comment above about yogurt.. I eat plain & add my won fruit or other goodies but there is still some sugars, not like added fruit ones though… I rather add what I want. 🙂

    And yes on sauces & other condiments – it all adds up so we just have to be aware….
    Jody – Fit at 56 recently posted…Working My Way Back!My Profile

  5. Hi Tamara,

    I want to tell here about my personal experience about sugar intake. I started to drink tea without sugar about 2 months ago and that’s the only source from where I get added sugars. And now everyone who sees me says that I look a bit thin ;). Though I haven’t weighted myself before or not even now.
    Bharat recently posted…Fortis Foundation Rural Health Care SystemMy Profile