The Importance of Decreasing Daily Sugar Consumption

The Sugar Dilemma: Natural and Added Sugars

Our bodies use food as fuel by converting carbohydrates, fats, and protein into glucose. Glucose, a simple monosaccharide sugar, is the main source of energy for our bodies. While our bodies are very adept at metabolizing glucose, it is important to differentiate between the natural sugars found in whole foods and the added artificial sugar in most modern processed food. Natural sugars are found in a wide range of whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and dairy. Nature provides a complex and diverse array of sugars in natural foods along with other substances such as fiber, which helps slow sugar absorption and regulates blood sugar levels. Added sugars are usually from table sugar (sucrose) that we use to sweeten our food or from artificially sweetened processed foods we purchase.


The History of Sugar

For most of our evolutionary history, we evolved without added sugar. Before we were able to synthesize raw sugar from sugarcane or beets, the closest thing to sugar that we consumed as a species was occasional honey, plant-produced syrups (e.g., maple syrup or agave nectar), milk, or the sugar found in fruits and vegetables. The earliest record of sugar consumption in its raw form is 8000 BC in New Guinea, where the sugar cane plant is native and wild. People would chew on its reeds for the sweet taste. The sugar cane plant eventually made its way to Southeast Asia by ship, and it was not until 100 AD in India that modern sugar was refined and the early age of sugar commercialization began.

From these ancient origins, it scaled slowly across the world and was still not consumed in high quantities, as it was only accessible and affordable to royalty, the wealthy, or the elite. From the mid-1600s onwards, mass consumption increased due to the decrease in production costs and increase in the world’s population. Even as late as the mid-1800s, though, people rarely consumed more than a few kilograms of sugar a year. Today, in many middle- and high-income countries, people consume 30–40 kilograms a year. In the United States, that figure is closer to more than 45 kilograms a year, which is not surprising as over 60% of the foods and beverages purchased in American grocery stores contain added sugar.

How Much Is Too Much?

It is well established that an increase in dietary sugar has led to a higher prevalence of most modern chronic health problems, many of which were rarer in the past. These include type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, dementia, obesity, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, liver disease, cancer, kidney disease, tooth decay, skin disease, joint disease, and insomnia. In fact, there is no system in our bodies that an increase in our dietary sugar does not negatively affect.

Four grams of sugar is equivalent to one teaspoon of table sugar. The liver can metabolize roughly 24 grams (6 teaspoons) of added sugar a day before converting excess sugar into body fat. On average, when you add up all the added sugars that are added in the processed foods we eat and drink and the additional table sugar we may add ourselves, American adults consume about 77 grams (almost 20 teaspoons) of added sugar a day and American children consume roughly 65 grams (16 teaspoons) a day. These numbers are 2–3 times the daily recommended allowance.

For quite a long time, formal guidelines for daily added sugar intake did not exist, aside from recommendations to eat sugar “in moderation.” The American Heart Association (AHA), however, in 2009 provided the first official guidelines limiting daily added sugar intake to:

  • 9 teaspoons (36 grams) for men
  • 6 teaspoons (25 grams) for women
  • Less than 6 teaspoons (24 grams) for toddlers and teens between the ages of 2 and 18
  • Zero added sugars for children under the age of 2

To put this in perspective, there are 39 grams of added sugar in a 12-ounce Coca-Cola. A regular-size Snickers bar contains 26 grams of added sugar. An 8.4-ounce Monster energy drink contains 28 grams of sugar. Just one of these drinks or foods daily can push one over the daily AHA limit of added sugar.

Nutrition Labels: Total and Added Sugars

Since January of 2021, the FDA has required both Total Sugars and Added Sugars to be declared together on Nutrition Fact labels. Total Sugars include both added sugars and natural sugars. Added Sugar is listed as a subcategory under Total Sugars. The Added Sugar subcategory provides the numerical amount in grams as well as the percent Daily Value (%DV). Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting calories from added sugars to less than 10% per day (for a 2,000 calorie diet, that’s about 200 calories from added sugars). Since processed food is so prevalent, this allows people to monitor this number and to pick processed foods with little or no added sugars to better manage their health.

Wiseman Health Take-Home Advice

Though the AHA guidelines provide us with some sort of roadmap for daily added sugar intake, the gold standard is to not eat any processed food with added sugar or consume any added sugar at all. This, of course, is very difficult in our modern culture, so we recommend that you always be cognizant that the less added sugars you consume, the better chance you’ll have for good health. We are designed to get all of our sugar solely from natural whole food sources like fruits and vegetables, so focus on these types of foods in your diet and it will make processed foods with added sugars more obsolete. This is especially important if you have a specific medical condition such as diabetes, insulin resistance, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), obesity, or any medical condition where it is paramount to have a low-sugar diet.

Here are some helpful strategies to decrease your daily added sugar consumption:

  • Beverages take the lead with added sugars, as they comprise about 47% of our added sugar intake. Eliminate all sodas, fruit juice, energy drinks, or sport drinks that are part of your diet, followed by all processed packaged foods. Drink purified water and unsweetened coffee and tea.
  • Only consume sweets and desserts occasionally, for instance once or twice a month. Try dark chocolate with 70–85% cocoa which has less total sugar grams and contains healthy antioxidants.
  • When you crave something sweet, consume fruit.
  • If you enjoy juicing, then use primarily vegetables over fruits. Juicing with fruit only increases your daily sugar amount very quickly.
  • For snacks, avoid processed packaged snacks because most of these foods have a large number of added sugar. Choose natural snacks like hard-boiled eggs, raw cheese, avocado, or nuts. If you must consume packaged food, then pick the ones with no added sugar or under 5 grams of added sugars on the nutrition label.
  • Eat natural whole foods daily to help eliminate sugar cravings: protein (e.g., pastured pork, grass-fed beef, and wild-caught fish), fiber (vegetables, fruits, and whole grains), and foods with healthy fats such as avocados, pasture-raised eggs, and nuts. The more natural protein and fats you eat, the more you will be satiated and have less sugar cravings.
  • Read Nutrition Fact labels. Food labels quantify “Total Sugars” and “Added Sugars.” Look for these numbers when navigating your daily diet.
  • Recognize processed foods with hidden sugars. For example, bottled salad dressings, pasta sauce, breakfast cereals, barbeque sauce, some protein drinks, yogurt parfaits, carbonated flavored drinks, energy drinks, and ketchup can contain high amounts of sugar. Most importantly, read labels when you are purchasing food. Not all nutrition ingredients will say sugar. They’ll use other common words or phrases to indicate the product contains sugar: brown rice syrup, high-fructose syrup, maltose syrup, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, agave nectar, molasses, sucrose, corn sweetener, fruit-juice concentrate, caramel. The best practice, though, is to look at the Total Sugars and Added Sugars on the food labels, when possible.
  • Avoid all artificial sweeteners: Splenda, NutraSweet, Equal, and Sweet’N Low. It’s tempting to choose this kind of substitute over table sugar because of its “zero calorie” allure, but artificial sweeteners are not the healthier option. There are a number of studies linking their use to a number of health risks such as weight gain, heart disease, and cancer. If you must use a sweetener for foods and beverages like coffee or tea, try to use a natural sweetener such as raw, unfiltered honey or natural stevia for a non-calorie and non-sugar option. For reference, though, a tablespoon of honey is 17 grams of added sugar which is almost near one’s recommended daily allowance. For more information about the best sugar alternatives, read What’s the Healthiest Sweetener?
  • Drink lots of water and stay hydrated. This has the added benefit of helping to decrease excessive food cravings.
  • Get plenty of weekly exercise or physical activity. At a minimum, aim for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise 3–4 times a week. Moderate-intensity exercise may be helpful in reducing stress and the urge to reach for sugary snacks that provide comfort. When possible, exercise outdoors in nature to reap the benefits of natural sunlight and fresh air.

Editor’s Note: This content was created by our Wiseman Health content and writing team, without the influence of artificial intelligence engines. Our goal is to be your trusted source for natural health and medical information. This article was originally published on August 14, 2015 and has since been updated.

Added Sugars on the Nutrition Facts Label

The Illustrated History of How Sugar Conquered the World

Mercola, J. (2014, December 10) New Science Website Reveals the Truth About Sugar Retrieved May 27, 2015

Hardick, B.J. (2013, December 15) Sugar and Your Brain: Is Alzheimer’s Disease Actually Type 3 Diabetes? Retrieved May 27, 2015

SugarScience: The Unsweetened Truth Retrieved May 27, 2015

Hidden in Plain Sight. Retrieved May 27, 2015

8 Replies to “The Importance of Decreasing Daily Sugar Consumption”

  1. Why don’t you say in teaspoons how much 30 grams of sugar or any other item is?

    1. Hi, the article says that 4 grams of sugar are equal to one teaspoon. On a food label, sugar is usually listed in grams and not teaspoons. So, 30 grams of sugar is roughly equal to 7 1/2 teaspoons daily, or 2 1/2 tablespoons.

  2. Why don’t you mention the relationship of sugar to an overgrowth of candida in one’s system and the negative effects of that? That was the something your office found in me and put me on a regimen of probiotics, an anti-fungal, and a no-sugar diet, i.e. no sugar, no grain, no fruit, and no dairy. I assumed that all this meant that the condition is serious.

  3. What about the newer sweeteners? Xylitol, erythritol, stevia, monk fruit, coke zero.

    I’m a RDH and we will typically say xylitol is lower in glycemic index and can help reduce tooth decay and gingivitis. I don’t know enough about the others

    1. Great questions about sweeteners! Monk fruit extract is a natural zero-calorie sweetener as it does not contain calories or carbohydrates and does not raise blood glucose levels. If a sweetener is needed, then a natural “whole food” such as the monk fruit extract can be used in small amounts so long as other ingredients such as fillers have not been added to the packaged monk fruit extract. For another non-caloric, plant-based sweetener, natural stevia (from the whole plant) is a good choice. It’s 200 times sweeter than table sugar, which means you don’t need to use a lot. Erythritol, like xylitol, is a common sugar alcohol and is considered safe in small amounts; however, like most sugar alcohols, when consumed in large amounts, it can cause gastrointestinal issues such as bloating and stomach upset. Although Coke Zero doesn’t contain sugar or calories, it contains several common artificial sweeteners, including aspartame and acesulfame potassium (Ace-K). We recommend avoiding drinks with artificial sweeteners and sticking to purified water or unsweetened coffee and tea. To learn more about sweeteners, see our article What’s The Healthiest Sweetener? on our website, which provides helpful tips for the best sugar alternatives.

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