Move over full-fat, low-fat, and non-fat anything. Sugar is the new food villain, and with good reason. There’s strong scientific evidence pointing towards its negative impact on health, which has led the World Health Organization to reduce its recommendation for sugar intake to no more than 6 teaspoons (or 25 grams) of sugar per day.
Too much sugar can increase your risk of becoming overweight and obese. “When the intake of sugars exceeds the body’s need for energy and its storage capacity, the sugars are converted to fat in the liver, circulate as triglycerides in blood, raise blood levels of the ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, reduce blood levels of HDL cholesterol, and are deposited as body fat,” explains Marion Nestle, a nutrition and food policy expert at New York University.
Still, sugar comes in many forms, so it’s important to understand how the WHO comes up with that “6 teaspoons limit.” It’s not just added sugars, such as glucose, sucrose, and fructose, found in foods and drinks, or in the packets you sprinkle into your coffee, but also sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, and fruit juices. The sweet stuff you don’t have to worry too much about: sugars naturally present in fresh fruits, vegetables, and milk. (Phew.)
Sugar Adds Up Fast
Sugar can appear in many forms on a food label…Agave Nectar, Brown Sugar, Cane Crystals, Cane Sugar, Corn Sweetener, Corn Syrup, Crystalline Fructose, Dextrose, Evaporated Cane Juice, Fructose, Fruit Juice, Fruit Juice Concentrates, Glucose, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Honey, Invert Sugar, Lactose, Maltose, Malt Syrup, Maple Syrup, Molasses, Raw Sugar, Rice Syrup, Sucrose, and Syrup… And those 6 teaspoons can add up faster than you might think—enjoy just 6 ounces of the fruit-flavored yogurt pictured above and you’ve hit the daily max.
Thankfully, you can still make room for sweetness in your day. And aside from knowing what it may be called, you don’t have to be a super sleuth to keep track of how much sugar you’re consuming. A simple rule is to ensure whatever you’re eating has been packaged by nature, not by the food industry. An even better way to think of it: You could consume more food and still decrease your sugar intake.
A Sweet Meal Plan
Compare these two days of eating. At first glance they appear very similar, and both seem reasonably healthy. But take a closer look at the added sugar content. With a few tweaks here and there, you can reduce your sugar intake from an enormous 34 teaspoons to the recommended 6 teaspoons a day—all while eating more and taking in the same number of calories! Replacing high-sugar foods with less processed, fresh foods also increases the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which your body will love.
Reading Food Labels is Key
Remember, ingredients are listed in descending order, so if sugar appears as one of the top three items in the ingredients list, it’s best to limit your portion of that particular food item, or avoid it. But don’t be fooled, sugar may not appear in the first few ingredients because it can be disguised in many forms. Check the numbers, and aim for less than 5g of total sugars per 100g—anything above 15g per 100g is high, unless the sugar is coming from fresh fruit or milk.
Are you sugar savvy? How do you stick to just 6 teaspoons a day? Join the conversation below.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.