Sweet sugar: we love it so much that some may say we are addicted to it. I, too, enjoy sweet treats, sauces, etc. However, the one thing I know for sure is that moderation is key. I think, however, the concept of moderation is ‘relative’ as many people ask questions like “What does moderation mean? How much fat, protein, carbohydrates, and sugar can I have if it’s in moderation?”.
I recently watched a talk by a woman whose very job it is to find historical clues and interpret what our ancestor’s diets were actually like. In her talk, she mentioned how many canes of sugar we consume nowadays and how impractical that would have been for our ancestors to actually sit there and chew on multiple sugar canes a day to consume how much sugar we eat so conveniently.
Today, sugar is everywhere. We do consume far more than our ancestors and like many other nutrients we probably consume too much of (or too little of), we are seeing increases in a variety of health issues. Of course, these aren’t all because of our diets- there are many factors such as physical activity, stress levels, inflammation, etc. that can affect our health.
But, back to sugar and heart disease. A recent analysis evaluating data from 25 years of information from the NHANES study found a 30% increase in CVD (cardiovascular disease) and added sugars.
*Added sugars do not include naturally occurring sugars found in fruit, for example. We are talking about the sugars added to foods to make them taste more appealing (which doesn’t just pertain to sweets but also items like salad dressings or savory dishes that need ‘balanced’ flavor and so on).
So, what is considered a moderate amount of added sugar? Well, that depends on who you ask. The Institute of Medicine recommends less than 25% of your total calories should come from added sugar (which would be approximately 500 kcals from sugar on a 2000 kcals diet). The World Health Organization recommends less than 10% of total kcals coming from added sugar (approximately 200 kcals on a 2,000 kcals diet). The American Heart Association recommends less than 5% (or 100 kcals) of total kcals for women’s diets and less than 7.5% (or 150 kcals) for men’s diets. And then there are many who say to avoid it completely, if possible.
If you are reading nutrition labels, you may want to use grams instead of calories when measuring sugar. One gram of sugar is approximately 4 kcals (to make math simple). Therefore, the AHA recommendations allows for up to 25 grams of added sugar for women and up to 38 grams of added sugar for men per day while the WHO recommendations allows for up to 50 grams of added sugar per day and the Institute of Medicine allows for up to 125 grams of added sugar per day (if based on the 2,000 kcals diet above).
Most people I know do not wish to count calories and measure grams of nutrients. This is completely understandable. I have often found that making simple changes such as cutting out soda/sweetened beverages, consuming sugars/carbohydrates from whole foods such as fruits and vegetables, only lightly sweetening drinks such as tea/infused water, cutting back on dining out/fast food, making your own meals as much as possible, and using smaller portions for sweets or having a cheat day for a sweet treat are pretty effective in cutting back on added sugars and also help in weight loss for many people.
Of course, we are not all the same and recommendations are for the general public. If you have special concerns or medical conditions, you will want to speak to your personal health professionals regarding your dietary intake.
I’d love to hear your feedback!