Ask Amelia Food Myths Nutrition Weight Loss

How Much Sugar is Too Much?

added sugar

At any given time, people are collectively pointing fingers at a particular food or ingredient, saying it’s the thing to blame for our current obesity epidemic.

Right now that food is sugar.

But is sugar – and all it’s pseudonyms – really to blame for obesity?

I say no.

Though Americans do eat a lot more sugar than we should (22-28 teaspoons on average!), it’s not the only nor primary cause of obesity.

In my opinion, our obesity crisis is due to a multitude of factors that have been occurring simultaneously over time: high intake of cheap processed foods, increased sedentary behavior due to technological advances, decreased physical activity due to an environment that promotes driving, lack of cooking skills, longer work days, and more. Our obsession with sugar may be another factor, but it’s not the primary reason we’re overweight.

However, if you’re trying to lose weight or simply want to improve your health, reducing sugar (and all other sweeteners) in your diet is a good idea. Sugar is a source of empty calories and doesn’t do anything beneficial for our bodies.

How much sweetener is too much?

“None” would be the most obvious and ideal answer here, but that’s unrealistic for nearly everyone, since it’s innate to prefer sweet tastes (thanks to evolution). So here’s what I – and many nutrition experts – recommend:

No more than 6 teaspoons (100 calories) if you’re a woman, and 9 teaspoons (150 calories) if you’re a man.  Limiting sugar to this level or below may help you lose weight, keep your metabolism working properly, and lower your risk of diabetes and heart disease.

What does this look like in practice?

  • Don’t drink your calories.  Avoid soda, fruit & coffee drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks, juice, sweetened tea, etc.
  • Continue to eat fruit.  Whole fruit (but not fruit juice) is healthy because of it’s fiber, water, and nutrient content. The sugar in fruit is not absorbed in the same way added sugar is, since it’s eaten along with these other components that help slow absorption.
  • Eat sweet treats in small portions.  A piece of cake or muffin could easily push you over 10 teaspoons of sugar, so make sure baked goods and other sweet treats are in small portions or eaten infrequently.
  • Read Nutrition Facts Labels.  If a food doesn’t contain milk or fruit (which will show up under the “Sugar” part of the label even though they are naturally occurring), then the “Sugars” should read close to zero.  One gram of sugar = 4 calories, and 4 grams = 1 teaspoon.
  • Limit intake of processed foods. Sugar and other sweeteners are often added to processed foods like sauces, dressings, crackers, cereals and other foods that may not taste very sweet. Make these foods from scratch or become an avid label reader.

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  • shelley
    September 17, 2014 at 10:12 pm

    I saw the title of this post, and I was almost afraid to continue reading! I freely admit to a medium-grade sugar addiction (my characterization), and it’s my most difficult vice to rein in. I do enjoy some kind of treat pretty much every day, but I hope my other mostly healthy habits will outweigh this indulgence. I’ve been chewing on the idea (while chewing on a cookie) of making my almost-daily treat kind of a routine, like my breakfast. Maybe the monotony will take away the weird thrill….?

  • GiGi Eats
    September 22, 2014 at 11:22 am

    The only sugar I can eat is from vegetables, I can not tolerate anything else thanks to insane stomach issues. While some feel “sorry” for me, I see it as a wonderful blessing in disguise!

  • Paula
    January 2, 2015 at 2:21 pm

    I appreciate reading another’s point of view on this. Have you seen the newest documentary, “Fed Up”? It came out last year. Mind blowing!

  • Amelia Winslow
    January 2, 2015 at 5:44 pm

    I did see that, Paula. Some great points in that film, for sure! However, I don’t care for films or movements that blame everything on one food group or ingredient. The reality is obesity and poor eating in general, are multi-factorial problems that require a wide variety of solutions!

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