One of the worst single ingredients in the modern diet is added sugar.
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, insulin resistance 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 micro-nutrients. Naturally occurring sugars are absolutely fine, but the same does not apply to added sugar.
Added sugar is the main ingredient in sweets and is plentiful in many processed foods, such as soft drinks and baked products such as bread, cakes and biscuits.
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. Sugar that’s added to processed foods is much worse than natural sugar in whole foods like fruits and vegetables.
How Much Sugar is Safe to Eat Per Day ?
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 (7Trusted Source):
Personally I believe the above guidelines are still too much for a daily allowance !
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 (8Trusted Source).
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.
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).
If You're Addicted to Sugar, Perhaps You Should Avoid It Completely
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.
How to Reduce Sugars in Your Diet
Avoid these foods, in order of importance:
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, lemon or stevia (which is a natural zero-calorie alternative).
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.
What About Sugar in Processed Foods?
The best way to cut back on sugar is to simply avoid processed foods and satisfy your sweet tooth with fruit instead.
However, if you're simply unable to stick to unprocessed foods, then here are some tips on how to make the right choices:
Warning: You MUST read nutrition labels! Even foods disguised as "health foods" can be loaded with added sugars even if they are “organic”.
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.
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Barbara is a qualified nutritionist offering Health, Nutrition & Lifestyle Counseling. She gives Healthy weight loss advice and promotes the Mediterranean diet. She is the author of the Med Life Diet - creating healthy lifestyle habits and attitudes for life !