Sugar lurks in some surprising places, such as condiments and prepared foods, so it’s easy to overdo it. However, the right amounts of sugar from natural sources such as fruit and even vegetables are necessary to good health, so how much is too much, and what’s a healthy sugar versus an unhealthy one?
The World Health Organization suggests that sugar shouldn’t exceed 5 percent of an adult’s daily calories, so for a 2,000-calorie diet, that would be 25 grams or less. Yet the average American consumes approximately 82 grams every day. Women should have no more than 25 grams, or six teaspoons, daily, whereas men can have up to 38 grams, or nine teaspoons. Too much sugar is associated with an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, obesity, and cancer.
The Right Kinds of Sugar
The type of sugar you’re eating and what you’re eating it with matters, says nutrition expert Robert Reames. “Are you eating an apple or a candy bar?” asks Reames. “And if you’re eating an apple, which contains fructose, a healthy sugar, it’s best to pair that with some protein, like some almond or peanut butter on apple slices.”
Eating sugar with protein, fiber, and healthy fats such as avocado “blunts the insulin response, keeping your blood sugar more balanced,” says Reames.
Artificial sugars such as aspartame, found in sweeteners, as well as packaged foods labeled “reduced sugar” or “sugar free,” aren’t doing you any favors. Artificial sweeteners impair the gut’s healthy bacteria, which influence metabolism. “You’re better off getting your sugar from foods that don’t require any packaging or labeling, such as anything found in the produce aisle at the grocery store,” says Reames.
Check Your Pantry
The best way to stay on top of how much sugar you’re actually eating isn’t to carry a calculator and count teaspoons or grams all day, but to go through your refrigerator and cupboards and see what you’re actually eating. “If it’s not in your environment, then you’re not going to eat it,” Reames says.
Skip the condiments.
Ketchup, mustard, barbecue sauce, pasta sauce, and salad dressing are loaded with sugar. Ketchup alone is 1 teaspoon of sugar per 1 tablespoon of ketchup.
Forgo dried fruit.
Though it might sound like a good substitute for fresh fruit, it actually isn’t. “Dried fruit is a processed product with added sugar and the fiber stripped out,” said Reames. “It becomes a piece of candy disguised as fruit.”
Watch the alcohol.
A four-ounce pina colada contains a whopping 28 grams of sugar, while a five-ounce glass of red or white wine contains about one gram of sugar derived from grapes, as opposed to an added sugar.
Opt for water.
If you’re concerned with your sugar intake, it’s always good to go with water over fruit juice or smoothies, which are often sugar bombs; a restaurant fruit smoothie may contain 45 to 63 grams of added sugar.
Choose natural sugars.
Try honey or agave, rather than processed sugar that you spoon from a bowl.
Reap the Benefits!
Once you start watching your sugar intake on a regular basis and stock your kitchen with different types of ingredients, you’ll see some head-to-toe changes, inside and out.
“You may lose weight, start to sleep better, the stress hormone cortisol starts to go down, your immunity starts to go up, so you’re less likely to catch colds as easily,” he says. “Sugar diffuses your immunity, so when you reduce the sugar, you boost your immune system.”
Moreover, on the outside, the integrity and elasticity of your skin improves because sugar can dry the skin, while on the inside, your mood also improves. People who have chronic joint pain may also experience less inflammation when they reduce the amount of sugar they consume, says Reames.
“Your body only needs some healthy sugar from natural sources for proper function,” he says. “Avoid processed foods, which tend to be high in sugar, and just eat sugar from whole foods like fruits and vegetables, and your entire body will change.”