LOL – remember the Archies and their big pop hit from (gulp!!) 50 years ago!!?? Sugar seemed so fun back then, didn’t it?
Quick – test yourself – in one minute, how many different sweeteners (artificial or natural) can you list off the top of your head?
I’ll help you get started: Honey, white sugar, turbinado sugar, xylitol, molasses, galactose, glucose, maple sugar, sucralose, aspartame, high fructose corn syrup…. And what else?
You may be surprised at how many you can come up with…or you may be surprised at how many different ones there are – that you didn’t know about! The University of California San Francisco says that there are over 61 different ways manufacturers can label sugar in their products.
Whoa – that’s kind of alarming – but to be honest, not altogether surprising. Added or hidden sugar is in EVERYTHING. That’s why reading labels is so important. And understanding how manufacturers are trying to position and market products as healthy or better for you – when in fact, they are still crammed with too much sugar. (Check out my blog about ‘healthy-sounding-food’ here).
You may already be aware of the many health implications that can tag along with high sugar diets:
- Obesity is on the rise
- Adult-Onset Diabetes (known as Type 2 Diabetes) and Metabolic Syndrome may be related to the regular consumption of sugar sweetened drinks
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that cavities are the #1 most common chronic disease in people ages 6-19
High sugar intake may also be implicated in mental health issues as well:
- One study found that post-menopausal women who ate high glycemic index (GI) diets (that is, foods that increase blood sugar levels quicker) were more likely to experience depression than the women in the control group
- It may also trigger addictive behaviours, similar to those that we see in drug addictions. (This research should be taken with a grain of salt though, as it was based on animal studies.)
- High-Fat-High-Sugar diets may also be related to increased anxiety. (Please note, these findings may or may not be generalized to humans as this research was done on rats. Since they didn’t separate the high fat from the high sugar, a correlation may exist between (i) sugar and anxiety, (ii) fat and anxiety, (iii) sugar-with-fat and anxiety OR (iv) none-of-the-above. We need more research to narrow down a potential link – but suffice to say, it bears thinking about.)
So before we get into how much sugar is “too much”, we need to clarify a couple of things: what is ‘added sugar’ and how does it differ from ‘naturally occurring sugar’? And because so many people use Canada’s Food Guide (CFG) as a tool for healthy eating, we need to decode what it says. (Not that I 100% agree with the CFG! Read my thoughts about their new changes here).
Added sugar vs. naturally occurring sugar. What do some of the officials say?
Before we talk about the “official” numbers (and why I don’t agree with them), you need to know the difference between “added” sugar and “naturally occurring” sugar.
Fruits, and some vegetables as well as other healthy whole foods, contain sugar. They also contain water, fibre, vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients. They are good for you. And you should eat them. Including fruits and vegetables is a well-proven way to reduce your risk of many chronic diseases for the vast majority of people.
“Added sugars,” on the other hand, are concerning. And sneaky – because as I said, they are in EVERYTHING – even stuff you’d never think would contain sugar like deli meats, mustards, ‘whole wheat’ bread and skim milk! You can find sugar on the ingredient list as many names, often ending in “-ose.” These include glucose, fructose, sucrose, etc.
When looking at a nutrition label here’s how to decipher it: “Total sugars” = “Naturally occurring sugars” + “Added sugars.”
You can check out how much sugar is included in a product by looking at the Nutrition Facts panel on a food. Under the Carbohydrates heading (which is what sugar is) you will see a total number of grams as well as a % DV – or Daily Value. This is how much of a particular nutrient Health Canada has determined is ‘healthy’ or required for the average Canadian.
OK – don’t get me started on how there is no such thing as an ‘average’ Canadian.
Can you imagine that a fit and muscular 20-something active male athlete and a sedentary 60-something female office worker would need the same %DV of anything?! Ummm…not likely.
Anyway – even looking beyond that little issue – the %DV for sugar in Canada is pegged at 100g/day of total sugar. That’s still mighty high for most people and the Heart and Stroke Foundation (HSF) concurs – even if Health Canada is lagging in its recommendations. HSF says no more than 90g per day – which is a little better. But they also say that added sugars should make up no more than 10% of your total calories each day. For someone who eats around 2,000 calories a day, that means about 200 calories a day in added sugars or around 48g – which in practical terms is 12 teaspoons. Still a lot – the ideal is more like 5% or 6 teaspoons.
You can see their rational here. I particularly like how they also acknowledged that sugars from whole foods is fine in reasonable amounts.
So if we are striving for 5- 10g a day — what are people actually consuming, you ask? Well, data from 2015 suggests that the average daily total sugar intake in Canada ranged from 85 grams/day (mostly adults) to 115 grams/day (for children between 9 and 18).
Since the rates of diabetes metabolic syndrome, obesity and a range of other chronic issues continue to climb – you can see why I’d argue that 100 g per day total sugar is still too high.
What is a better daily sugar goal and how do you get there?
As you know – one of my key principles is to ditch as many processed foods as possible, regardless of their sugar content. There are a ton of studies that show that processed foods are bad for your health. Period. Get your sugar from whole, unprocessed fruits first – because you’re going to get the benefit of other nutrients and especially – fibre!
Tips to reduce your sugar intake
Here are some of my most popular recommendations to reduce your sugar intake:
- Reduce (or eliminate) any and all sugar-sweetened beverages; this includes soda pop, sweetened coffee/tea, sports drinks, and fruit juices. Instead, choose fruit-infused water or some of my ideas from this blog post. Try drinking your coffee/tea “black” or with just some non-dairy milk and a touch of cinnamon or vanilla instead.
- Reduce (or eliminate) commercially prepared desserts and baked goods. Make your own instead so you can control the type of sugar you use (like substituting dates or applesauce) or reducing the amount in a recipe.
- Instead of a granola bar, grab a handful of nuts and dried fruits, or veggies with hummus or guacamole. These are easy on-the-go snacks that can help you control the amount of sugar you inadvertently take in without thinking. Or – if you want to get fancy – make these pretty little No Sugar Added Apple Dips (recipe below). Cute, right?!?
- Read the labels on all food products – all of them! And look for how sugar is described (or masked). When you are a savvy eater, you have the power to make better choices.
Let me know in the comments your favourite tips to reduce your sugar intake!
Recipe: No Sugar Added Apple Dips
- 1/2 cup Plain Greek Yogurt
- 2 tbsps Unsweetened Shredded Coconut
- 2 tbsps Hemp Seeds
- 1/4 tsp Cinnamon
- 1 Apple (Sliced)
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place yogurt, coconut and hemp seeds into small separate bowls. Stir cinnamon into the hemp seeds.
- Dip each apple slice in the yogurt (coating about 3/4 of the slice) and then coat with either the coconut or cinnamon-hemp seed mixture on all sides. Transfer to the baking sheet.
- Freeze for about 10 minutes or until yogurt has hardened (ensure the apple doesn’t freeze). Serve immediately and enjoy!