Sugar has been getting a lot of bad press lately, and rightfully so—the sweet stuff isn’t good for you in any amount.1 But it can be difficult to know where to draw the line when it comes to sugar, since most foods and drinks contain some amount of naturally occurring sugar, too (like fruit and milk). This article will help you understand the difference between added and natural sugars and give you some tips on how to cut it out of your diet for better health.2
The Definition of Added Sugar
Don’t let added sugar fool you—it doesn’t have to be in your ice cream, candy bars or energy drinks. It can be hiding in breads, ketchup and cereals that appear to be healthy options. There are two types of sugars: naturally occurring and added sugars. Naturally occurring sugars occur in fruits, vegetables and dairy products; they add sweetness but don’t come with disease.3 Added sugars, on the other hand, are those that are added to foods by manufacturers or cooks during processing or preparation. Foods with naturally occurring sugars include fruits like bananas, oranges, berries and dates.
The Problem with Fructose
When you eat foods with naturally occurring sugar, your body breaks it down slowly. This gives your body time to register that it’s eating sugar and triggers a release of insulin to help control your blood sugar. But when you’re drinking sweetened beverages, your body doesn’t see added sugars as food. That leads to a spike in blood glucose levels and stimulates high insulin. This, in turn, leads to all kinds of metabolic problems—and makes you gain weight.4 Fructose is worse than other types of sugars and arguably one of the worst things about our diet. The human liver has no enzyme for metabolizing fructose and thus can cause non-alcoholic liver disease!5
Consuming Too Much Sugar Leads to Depression
Consuming too much sugar can lead to emotional disturbances such as depression.6 This is because if affects blood glucose levels which in turn, lower serotonin levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood and so low levels of it can cause feelings of despair.7 Other neurotransmitters such as adrenaline and dopamine are also affected by high sugar intake so there’s another reason for feeling down and stressed out if you are eating more sugar than your body needs. To avoid these negative effects, cut back on added sugars and make sure you consume foods with naturally occurring ones instead.
How Much Sugar Should We Eat?
The USDA recommends a maximum of 10% of your daily calories come from added sugar, which would equate to no more than about 200 calories for someone eating 2,000 calories a day. So, if you’re eating 2,000 calories a day, you’d have no more than 20 grams of added sugar. For someone who eats 3,000 calories a day (the average for adult men and women), that number is 30 grams. And anyone on a normal American diet would easily consume triple or quadruple that amount without even thinking about it.
Many adults should be cutting their daily intake by at least half just to avoid any health problems associated with excess sugar consumption in our modern world where added sugar is ubiquitous. Also remember that these are government ‘recommendations’; the same government that has been known to flat-out lie to its own citizens. Darn close to zero would be a better recommendation.
What About Naturally Occurring Sugars?
There are two main reasons why you should limit your intake of natural sugars. First, they can add up quickly. The average American eats 77 pounds of honey every year, and while most of us don’t scarf down that much naturally occurring sugar on a daily basis, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when you take into account how much is in our favorite sweet treats like soda and chocolate bars. And second, added sugars are harder for your body to process than naturally occurring ones (e.g., in fruit). This means added sugars cause insulin levels to spike higher after you eat them—and since insulin regulates fat storage, high-sugar diets put your body into fat-storage mode even faster than a sugary dessert.8