Sugar–How Much is Too Much?
Sugar – we all love it, but according to our doctors it is evil. How much is actually too much?
The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to 36 grams a day for men and 25 grams a day for women. Be careful – sugar is not always called sugar on food labels. “Sugar” also includes sucrose, maltose, high fructose corn syrup, molasses, corn sweetener, syrup, and honey. Some fruit juice concentrates are also “sugar.” In fact, most of us consume about 19.5 teaspoons a day of added sugars. It is not true that high fructose corn syrup is “worse” than other added sugars for most people. However, as it also acts as a preservative it is often put in foods that are not, in fact, sweet, such as white bread.
Why It’s Bad
So, what happens if you eat too much sugar? Excessive sugar puts strain on your liver, causes you to gain weight and causes metabolic dysfunction (which can lead to diabetes). It also increases uric acid levels, which increases risk for kidney disease. Excessive sugar consumption can also lead to heart disease.
The easiest way to cut down on sugar is to cut down on soda. A typical can of regular soda contains about 40 grams of sugar – which means you are already over that added sugar limit. Avoid the temptation to just switch to diet – studies indicate that sugar substitutes trick your body into expecting sugar, messing up your metabolism, although it is still better for diabetics and for your teeth. Aspartame, the most common sugar substitute, is not bad for most people’s health but can trigger headaches in some people.
Also, watch out for hidden sugars – especially that tricky high fructose corn syrup. Sugar is found in most packaged foods – including things that are not particularly sweet. Foods to watch for include salad dressing, especially low-fat salad dressing – low-fat foods often contain more sugar, pasta sauce, breakfast/granola bars, commercially produced bread (especially white bread), fruit yogurt, premade frozen entrees, dried fruit, and barbecue sauce. Keep an eye on your alcohol consumption – and be particularly careful with those mixed drinks. For example, a pina colada can contain as many as 28 grams of added sugar. Beer is a better choice, as is red wine.
It is easy to know how much sugar you should consume – the real challenge is in making sure you don’t go over the limit without noticing in today’s world of packaged convenience foods. Making your own food as much as possible is the best way to keep your sugar consumption, and thus your weight, down.