Sugar — How Much Should You Really Be Eating?

Feeling run-down, moody, and irritable? It might just be the sugar that you eat every day. Whether you eat sugary treats for a hit of energy during the day, or you have a fairly healthy diet, sugar is everywhere. It‘s sneaky and in almost everything.

I’m talking about added sugar — the kind that doesn’t occur naturally (like in fruit), but is added during food processing, preparation, or at the table.

The American Heart Association recommends that women limit their sugar intake to 100 calories (25 grams), or around six teaspoons a day. Men should limit their intake to 150 calories (37.5 grams), or nine teaspoons.

You are probably aware that candy, cookies, and soda are loaded with sugar, although how much sugar may come as a surprise. But most of us don’t think of things like hamburger buns and crackers, or canned fruit and pasta sauce when it comes to foods full with sugar.

So what’s the big concern about eating too much sugar anyway?

Eating a lot of added sugar is linked to almost every bad health condition you can think of. Okay, maybe not everything, but it certainly has a big effect on things like:

Excess weight, especially near your waist

Low HDL or “good cholesterol”

High blood glucose levels and/or insulin resistance

High levels of triglycerides (energy stored in fat cells) in your blood

Increased risk for high blood pressure

Increase risk for heart disease and stroke

General feeling of crappiness (no, I don’t have any medical studies to back this one up, but it’s true)

And because sugar only provides calories, with no other nutritional value, eating sugary foods and beverages can displace nutrients that are necessary for the body to function at its best.   

What are the biggest sugar culprits?

Regular soft drinks: 33%

Candy: 16.1%

Cakes, cookies, pies: 12.9%

Fruit drinks (fruit punch and fruit juices): 9.7%

Dairy desserts and milk products (ice cream, sweetened yogurt, sweetened milk): 8.6%

White Grains: (white bread, toaster waffles/pancakes): 5.8%

Big benefits — small actions

Added sugars have no nutritional value other than calories, and many of us can reduce our risk of disease and get to that healthy weight by decreasing the amount of sugar in our diets.

Don’t worry, I am not going to tell you to cut out all sugar, or do some sort of crazy detox or cleanse. The reality is that restricting yourself to the recommended limit might be difficult, since one 12-ounce can of soda has about 130 calories, or eight teaspoons of sugar. (On average, Americans consume 355 calories, or more than 22 teaspoons, of sugar a day, the equivalent of two cans of soda and a chocolate bar.)

You don’t have to eliminate all sugar from your diet, just use your allotment wisely. Know your daily numbers and make trade-offs that you can live with.  A friend of mine lost 30 pounds in just a few months by simply cutting out all soda – nothing else.

Here are some tips that everyone should be able to follow.

Use fruit to add a sweet flavor to cereals, yogurt, as dessert, and for snacks.

Cut back on candy, cookies, etc.  and sweetened sodas, teas, and flavored waters.

And read labels always. Know where hidden sugar hangs out.

Most importantly, help your kids learn that so much sugar is not necessary. Train their palates when they’re young to enjoy less sweet food.

And you can still have small amounts of sugar (even desserts), but only with your meals. Eating a full meal helps slow sugar delivery, which will help with any sugar withdrawal, and moodiness or irritability after the sugar high starts to crash.

Become aware about what you buy and eat, so you can make smart decisions both in and out of your home.

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