Okay, okay, I know that eating a tub of ice cream every night while I binge Orange Is The New Black is bad for me. (Even though it feels so, so good.)
But there are lots of other hidden sources of sugar out there – fruit, yoghurt, honey! – that are a little trickier to deal with. Like, they’re healthy foods but… how much sugar can I eat in a day, even if it’s from healthy stuff? Is my love of organic market fresh fruit actually really bad for me? Should I just cut everything out? Should I be panicking right now?
Okay: How much sugar can you eat every day?
Here’s the thing: There’s no official recommended daily intake of sugar.
However, there are recommended limits on how much added sugar you should eat in a day. But even those vary. The FDA suggests that no more than 10% of your day’s kilojoules should come from added sugar. So if you’re eating a 8 368-kilojoule diet, that works out to about 52g (12 teaspoons) of sugar daily, or 364g (84 teaspoons) of sugar in one week.
Other organisations are even more conservative with their added sugar recommendations. Both the American Heart Association (AHA) and World Health Organization (WHO) suggest about 25g (six teaspoons) per day of added sugar for women, or 175g of sugar (42 teaspoons) per week.
Read more: 10 best low-sugar fruits that won’t mess with your blood sugar
What a day’s worth of added sugar really looks like:
- Six teaspoons of sugar
- One and a half chocolate bars
- Two and a quarter apples
- Three glasses of milk
Wait… What’s the difference?
To be clear: Added sugars are when processed (like white granulated sugar) or naturally-occurring sugars (like honey or fruit juice) are dumped into foods to make them sweeter, says Karen Ansel, author of Healing Superfoods for Anti-Aging. Added sugars are most commonly found in packaged foods like cookies and chocolate bars, but you’re technically using added sugar when you’re putting organic honey on top of your yoghurt or baking with maple syrup.
Nutritionists and health experts aren’t as concerned about the sugar naturally present in whole foods like fruits, veggies, dairy and whole grains. They have limited amounts of sugar (most fruits, for example, have only 15g per serving), and come with other nutritional benefits (like fibre and vitamins) that foods with added or processed sugars generally lack.
“It’s always better to eat a whole apple than to drink a glass of apple juice,” says registered Brigitte Zeitlin.
When sugar is added to foods, however, it’s usually in super-high doses, minus nutrients like fibre that slow down absorption. A 340ml can of soda, for example, serves up more sugar than three whole oranges (39g of sugar versus 36g, according to the USDA).
And yes, all sugars (no matter the source) generally affect your body in the same way, says Ansel – they get broken down into energy for your muscles, organs and brain. But foods with loads of added sugar (like that soda) are broken down by your body very quickly, making your blood sugar levels spike and then drop very, very rapidly.
Read more: Is raw honey actually any better than sugar or is everybody lying?
What happens when you eat too much added sugar?
In the short term, the side effects of too much sugar include trouble concentrating and mood swings due to sudden drops in blood sugar. Too much sugar (specifically in foods high on the glycaemic index) has also been linked to acne breakouts and premature wrinkles. (So… it’s literally doing you zero favours.)
Over the long term, regularly spiking your blood sugar with a diet of super-processed, sugary foods can lead to inflammation throughout your body and weight gain, and may even up your odds of other chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes.
“No one is gaining too much weight because of the sugar in milk,” says Ansel. “The same thing goes for whole fruit. The problem is with foods that are high in added sugars.”
Read more: 5 mistakes you’re probably making if you’re trying to cut down on sugar
How do I watch my added sugar?
You should see how much added sugar a food has thanks to a 2016 ruling by the FDA, which should make tracking that intake a bit easier. Some brands are already doing this, where you’ll see “added sugar” as its own category on the nutrition label.
In the meantime, Zeitlin suggests when eating packaged foods to stick to those with no more than 10g of sugar per serving. And since it is easy to overdo it on blended-down fruit at the smoothie bar, make your goal a max of two cups of fruit per day. “You can use that as a guide to figure out if you’re getting too much sugar in your acai bowl,” she says.
The bottom line: All sugars, whether they’re natural or processed, affect your body in a similar way. But sugars from whole foods tend to come with other good-for-you nutrients that make them worthwhile. So focus on limiting your added sugars to no more than 25g a day, and don’t stress too much about the sugar in fruit.
This article was originally published on www.womenshealthmag.com
Image credit: iStock