I get asked this question a lot. It’s a tricky question because there are two types of sugars; those that are naturally occurring in healthy foods like fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose), and those that are added which include any sugars that are added to foods/beverages during process or preparation. So how do you know how much sugar you are consuming? It’s a good idea to start tracking all the food you eat in a program like Myfitnesspal to provide you with some accurate information.
There isn’t really a definitive answer as to how much sugar one should consume in a day. But as obesity is on the rise in North America, more and more people are becoming concerned about added sugars and limiting it in our diets. The consensus is that we should consume no more than 40 grams of sugar per day (for non-diabetics). 40 grams refers mainly to added sugar, not naturally occurring sugar.
High Sugar Foods
Using 40 grams as the Daily Value for added sugars might reveal how much sugar per day is ideal for our body. For example, a typical cup of fruit-flavoured yogurt contains 70% of the Daily Value for sugar and a 12-oz soft drink contains 100% of the Daily Value for sugar!
Obesity and Sugar Addiction
Have you ever eaten something high in sugar and then a few minutes later, you find yourself hungry again? That’s the effect of sugar on our body…we never fully feel satisfied.
High sugar diets, also known as high glycemic index diets, can cause obesity. How? If you consume a high glycemic food, this triggers a rapid rise in our blood sugar levels, which overstimulates our pancreas and releases a large amount of insulin. So what’s the result? This large quantity of insulin mops up the excess sugar in our bloodstream, causing our blood sugar levels to rapidly dip below normal, causing us to feel hungry once more. So even though we have eaten a high-calorie meal or food, we are induced to feel hungry again within a short amount of time. This process obviously leads to excessive calorie intake and possibly obesity.
Foods to avoid when watching your sugar intake:
- white bread (any bread with white flour in it)
- white pasta
- white rice
- products made with white flour such as pretzels, cake, cookies, crackers, bagels, muffins
- potatoes and potato chips
- corn and corn chips
- products with added sugar like canned fruits in syrup
- jam containing added sugar
- cereal with added sugars
- dressings and sauces with added sugars
- soft drinks
Foods to eat on a low-sugar diet:
- fruits and vegetables (see this list for low-carb fruits and veggies)
- whole grains such as oatmeal and quinoa
- whole grain flour
- products made with 100% whole grain flour (it must be 100% WHOLE with no added sugars)
- lean meats
- fish and seafood
- nuts and nut butters
- healthy oils like coconut and extra virgin olive oil
- low-fat milk or non-dairy products like unsweetened almond milk
How can you decrease your sugar intake?
1. Cut down slowly – don’t try to go cold turkey when cutting back on sugar intake because that is more likely to lead to failure. If you have 2 cans of soda a day, cut back to one, then cut back to one every other day..until you you’re down to just one per week. Just remember, the more sugar you eat, the more you crave. So cutting down slowly is the best way to tame your sweet tooth.
2. Pay attention to ingredients lists – when shopping, make sure to check the ingredients list, not just the nutrition information. The ingredients is going to tell you what sugars (if any) have been added. And remember, it may not say ‘sugar.’ Sugar comes in MANY forms. Here are some common names:
- brown sugar
- corn syrup
- corn sweetener
- fruit juice concentrates
- high-fructose corn syrup
- malt sugar
- raw sugar
- sugar molecules ending in “ose” (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose
And if something says it’s “sugar-free,” it’s probably best to avoid that as well because it will most likely contain fake sugars, which are just as bad. Fake sugars to avoid:
- Sucralose (Splenda)
- Acesulfame potassium
3. Grant yourself a sugar quota – if you are finding it really hard to cut back, allow yourself to have one item, like a small dessert, something you REALLY enjoy. Don’t waste your sugar quota on dressings, spreads, breakfast cereals, and sodas. Not only will this reduce your sugar intake per day, but it will help you lose your sweet tooth. Sugar is HIGHLY addictive: the more you eat, the more addictive it becomes and the MORE it takes to satisfy you. The opposite is also true: you can train your tastebuds to become accustomed to less sugar and you’ll be satisfied with less.
4. Watch out for liquid calories – you now know that soda contains 100% of your Daily Value of sugar, but what about mixed drinks! Have you ever stopped to think about the sugar content in a margarita or cosmopolitan? Drink mixes and many alcoholic beverages are LOADED with sugar. Try to stick with beer, wine, or if you prefer, mix spirits with unsweetened seltzer.
5. Shakeology can cure a sweet tooth – One of my main vices for sugar cravings is Shakeology. I tend to crave sweet things later in the afternoon, so that’s when I drink my shakes. It has done wonders for my cravings and helped to change my tastebuds. I love to mix it with some unsweetened almond milk, a piece of banana, almond butter, ice and water. It’s my daily dessert! Plus it’s low glycemic index doesn’t cause a spike in your blood sugar. You should give it a try if you struggle with cravings.