Nutrition Notes: Sugar, How Much is Too Much?

by Jenna Olson, RD Nutrition & Wellness Educator

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February marks the beginning of the American Heart Health Month and with Valentine’s Day right around the corner, how much sugar is too much? A recent article in the Jama Internal Medicine found that most adults consume about 10% of their recommended daily calories from added sugar alone. So, what is the recommended daily limit for added sugar consumption? For men, it is recommended to keep added sugar limited to nine teaspoons per day, which breaks down to 36 grams or 145 calories. Then, when it comes to women, they should keep it to six teaspoons a day, which the equivalent of 24 grams or 100 calories.

With these recommendations, it should be noted that sugar can be found in two forms within the diet, either it is produced naturally or it is added. Natural sugars are found in fruits and dairy products and they provide us with additional nutrients our bodies need to stay healthy. On the other hand, added sugars are sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup and white sugar that are added to products during the manufacturing process. These added sugars provide the body with ‘empty’ calories, meaning that they provide little to no nutritional value.

So, how do we determine the sugar content of food items at the store? Take your favorite snack bar for example, look at the nutrition facts label. How many grams of sugar does it contain? If you take the total grams of sugar and divide that number by four, that will equal how many teaspoons or sugar cubes your snack bar contains per serving. (Note: 1 teaspoon = 1 sugar cube.) This exercise not only provides a great visual, but also an understanding of how much added sugar is hiding in foods consumed on a daily basis. So, when it is time for an afternoon snack, be sure to check the label! How does the sugar content stack up?

Here are a few examples of sugar content in common foods:

- Snack bar: 21g of total sugar = 5 sugar cube
- 20 oz. bottle of soda: 65g of total sugar = 16 sugar cubes
- Breakfast pastries (2): 34g of total sugar = 8.5 sugar cubes