Sugar: How Much is Too Much?

Weight gain...Heart Disease...High Blood Pressure...Diabetes...Cavities.

These are just some of the consequences of consuming too much sugar.

And as bad as those things are, it gets even worse.  The very length and quality of your future life may depend on how you handle your sugar consumption today.

Today I'm going to give you nine ways you can alter your nutrition lifestyle in order to cut down on your daily sugar consumption.

First, let's review how much sugar you should be consuming.  According to the United States government guidelines, men should consume no more than 37.5 grams of sugar a day; women no more than 25 grams. 

So how much are people consuming?

According to the Canadian documentary Sugar Coated, Europeans are consuming 71 g a day; Americans are consuming 81.9 g a day.   And teenagers are consuming 126 g to 172.2 g a day!  (Doctors are now treating teenagers (and in some cases pre-teens) for diabetes and fatty liver disease.)

Here are nine things you can start doing immediately that will help you fall within the recommended daily sugar consumption guidelines...

1.    If you eat yogurt, switch to plain yogurt - There are two categories of sugar you need to be mindful of if you're looking to cut down on your sugar intake:  1) Naturally occurring sugar and 2) Added sugar.   Naturally occurring sugar, of course, is the best.   Naturally occurring sugar is found in fruits, vegetables, milk and plain yogurt.  So not only does plain yogurt have less sugar, but because the sugar it contains occurs naturally you don't have to include it in your daily sugar intake count.  If you have some doubt whether the sugar in the yogurt you're eating is plain and contains naturally occurring sugar, look at the ingredients.  If it contains any of the ingredients listed in #8 below, then the sugar it contains is "added sugar" and should only be eaten if it keeps you within your recommended daily sugar allotment.   For yogurt lovers, adding fruit to plain yogurt is the healthiest way to go.  If you're into smoothies, substituting plain yogurt for frozen yogurt or ice cream is a sugar-smart option.

2.    Avoid artificial sweeteners and products that contain them - One of the conclusions found in a 2010 study published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine was that "because they are sweet, [artificial sweeteners] encourage sugar craving and sugar dependence."  For anyone serious about reducing their sugar intake this is not a good thing.

3.    Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables - This is a no-brainer.  Fruits and vegetables contain naturally occurring sugar which you don't have to count towards your recommended daily sugar intake total.  What's more, naturally occurring sugar is basically "self-regulating" because while it's easy to eat a whole bag of candy, you can only eat so many apples and oranges each day until you decide that you've had enough.

4.    Only drink water - Ok, only drinking water might be difficult, but instead of reaching for an orange juice, soda, energy drink, or fruit drink (which are all packed with sugar), reach for a water.  It's the healthiest liquid on earth.  In addition to containing no sugar, it's great for weight loss, will give your skin a healthy glow and, among other things, it will quickly restore your energy level should you become de-hydrated.  Regarding flavored water...while some flavored water is high in sugar there are some brands that don't list any sugar on their label.  Chances are that means it's chocked full of artificial ingredients, food colourings, corn syrup and so on.   So either way, going with regular old water still makes the most sense.  Should you want to liven up the taste, do a quick Google search on "fruit-infused water" and select a few of the numerous recipes using natural ingredients that appear.  If you're a coffee or tea drinker, enjoy your beverage without adding sugar to it.

5.    Cut down on processed food - A Time Magazine story from May 21, 2015, talks about a study that for the purpose of their analysis separated processed foods into four categories:

Minimally processed - Products with very little alteration, like bagged salad, frozen meat, and eggs.
Basic processed - Single-ingredient foods but changed in some way, like oil, flour, and sugar.
Moderately processed - Still recognizable as its original plant or animal source, but with additives.  (Examples: Jarred pasta sauce, salad dressing, yogurt, and cake mixes)
Highly processed - Multi-ingredient industrial mixtures that are no longer recognizable as their original plant or animal source.  (Examples: frozen or premade meals such as frozen pizza and microwaveable dinners, deli meat, crackers, and granola.)

What the study found was that in the year 2012, 76% of Americans' calories came from moderately processed (16%) and highly processed (61%).  Now while we love processed foods for their convenience, they are also known to be high in sugar.   The takeaway here is that the less food you eat that has a nutrition label attached to it, the better it is for you and your family's health.

6.    Cut down on "white food" - The term "white food" generally refers to food that has been refined or processed.  Examples of white food are flour, rice, pasta, cereal and simple sugars.  Foods made from refined carbs are known as "empty calories" - empty calories are high in calories, low in nutrients.  In the digestive process, sugar and starches are turned into sugars.  (There are three types of carbohydrates: sugar, starch, and fiber.)   What happens when you eat too many refined carbs?  Obesity, heart disease, diabetes and so on.

7.    Eliminate cereal from your family's diet - Most cereals taste and nutrition-wise are the equivalent to eating candy.  The majority of cereal is packed with sugar.  A single serving size of Muesli cereal (85 g) contains 26 g of sugar which is about the daily recommended level for a female.  Instead of cereal have some fresh fruit instead.  If you insist on eating cereal, find one that contains a very low level of sugar per serving and add fresh fruit to it.

8.    Read the nutrition labels - Check the amount of sugar per serving level on every processed food item you buy.  Often the servings sizes listed are smaller than what you might consider a serving size.  So it's critical that you work out the sugar level a food contains for your typical serving size.

You can also get a pretty good read on how much sugar (and how processed a food item is) by looking for sugar in the ingredients.  Here are some of the names manufacturers use in their ingredient list that represent sugar: agave nectar, barley malt, blackstrap molasses, brown sugar, buttered syrup, cane sugar, carob syrup, confectioner's sugar, corn syrup, date sugar, dextran, dextrose, diastatic malt, ethyl maltol, Florida crystals, fruit juice, galactose, glucose, golden syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, icing sugar, lactose, maltodextrin, maple syrup, muscovado, panocha, refiner's syrup, sorghum syrup, Barbados sugar, beet sugar, brown sugar, cane juice crystals, caramel, castor sugar, corn syrup, crystalline fructose, demerara sugar, dextrose, diastase, evaporated corn can juice, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, fructose, golden sugar, grape sugar, honey, invert sugar, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, organic raw sugar, raw sugar, rice syrup, sucrose, treacle, yellow sugar.

9.    Monitor your food/sugar consumption.  There are many apps available (usually for free) that will help you monitor your food intake.   Some of the more popular ones are My Fitness Pal, Calorie Counter, Lose It!, and Fooducate.  If you are serious about reducing your sugar intake, it might not be a bad idea to input what you're eating into one these apps.  I'm not saying you have to do it for the rest of your life, but even if you do it for only a week or two, it will paint a pretty accurate picture of where you are in terms of your daily sugar consumption and it's a good way to pinpoint the food you may want to veer away from down the road.

The physical health benefits of getting your daily sugar intake within the recommended level are indisputable.  But there are other reasons to get your sugar consumption under control.  You'll have a sense of accomplishment and be a good role model for other people in your life.  Plus studies have shown overconsumption of sugar may lead to an increased risk of depression and anxiety.  

It all adds up to this...

To live a healthy, long and enjoyable life you need to stay within the daily recommended level of sugar consumption.  

Want to learn more about changing your eating habits for a healthier and happier you? We want to help! Contact us here to receive your free trial of our TakeDown Lifestyle E Book to receive 3 free days of menu's and recipes from our nutrition program. 

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