“What are the facts about sugar? How much is too much?”

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“What are the facts about sugar?  How much is too much?”

Last week, I solicited suggestions for blog topics from our Facebook followers.  AF wrote to me with the preceding question, which I have chosen to answer because many people are confused about sugar.

Back in 2009, the American Heart Association published their opinion that women should limit their daily intake of added sugar to 100 calories (25 grams) while men should limit their intake to 150 calories (37.5 grams). 

Let’s put these numbers in context.  One cup of Coke, not even a full can, contains 27 grams of sugar.  One tablespoon of chocolate chips contains eight grams.  We will find 20 grams of sugar in a half-cup serving of Ben & Jerry’s vanilla ice cream, while a single Oreo has 14 grams.

When we think about what we eat over the course of the day and all the sources of added sugar we ingest, both the obvious sources like the examples I cited as well as more subtle sources like marinara sauce and salad dressing, most of us reach the American Heart Association’s upper limits very, very quickly.

If you are currently having more daily sugar than their guidelines suggest, my advice is not to panic and suddenly restrict yourself in order to achieve their guidelines, but rather to make small changes over time to reduce your added sugar intake.

Also, recognize that differences of opinion exist regarding how much added sugar is too much and others are more liberal.  For example, the USDA’s dietary reference intakes say, “Limit [added sugar] to no more than 25% of total energy.”  For somebody who needs 2,000 daily calories, this means a maximum of 500 daily calories from sugar, or 125 grams.  For a female, this represents a five-fold difference compared to the American Heart Association’s guidelines.

So, do not stress too much about achieving the American Heart Association’s specific guidelines, but rather recognize the general principle that many of us can improve our health by reducing our intake of added sugar.

Also, I cannot stress enough that these guidelines are for added sugar, not naturally-occurring sources of sugar.  The lactose in milk and the fructose in fruit, for example, are not included.  So, one need not freak out that a medium apple contains approximately 19 grams of sugar, as this does not count towards the limits we have discussed.

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