How Much Sugar Are You Really Eating?

So we know about the dangers of sugar and we know that we should be trying to limit the amount we are eating, but do you know how much you are actually consuming on a daily basis, or how to find out?

For any food that isn’t prepared by you, its a good idea to get into the habit of reading the ingredients labels.  First check the ingredients contained within.  This can be trickier than it first seems as sugar can be labelled under a whole host of other pseudonyms:

Sucrose, Fructose, Glucose, Maltose, Dextrose, Maltdoextrin, Hydrolysed Starch, Invert Sugar, Corn Syrup, Honey, Cane Sugar, Agave Nectar, Sugar Beets, High Fructose Corn Sweetener, Maple Syrup, Molasses….

Whilst it’s true that some are slightly better than others in that they don’t cause as much of a spike in blood sugar, they are all sugar and they will all cause a spike, leading to an increase in insulin to remove it from the blood.

Once you’ve checked the ingredients, next refer to the nutritional information and look at the Carbohydrates – of which sugars.  Every 4 grams of sugars equates to 1 teaspoon.

Here’s the sugar content of some common foods to give you an idea:

2 slices of white bread – 3 tsp

1 bowl cereal – 4-5 tsp

1 bagel – 4-5 tsp

1/2 cup dried fruit – 4 tsp

1/2 cup fruit juice – 3-4 tsp

1 can soft drink – 9 tsp

1 cup chocolate milk – 6 tsp

1 bowl ice cream – 23 tsp!!!

If your day looks something like this one below, then it’s easy to see how you can easily clock up way beyond daily recommendations.

Breakfast – 1.5 cups cereal with 1 cup milk and 1 cup orange juice – 10 tsp

Lunch – 1 sandwich, 1 granola bar and 1 cup apple juice – 15 tsp

Dinner – salad with dressing, 1 potato, pork chops and 2 cookies – 6 tsp

This is a total of 31 teaspoons of sugar, and that’s not counting an additional snacks, or drinks such as juices, cups of coffee or tea with milk, a glass of wine.  The World Health Organisation recommends a daily intake of around 6-8 tsp per day (less for children)!!!

So, what’s the problem with consuming too much sugar and what can you do about it?  Well, when we eat more than 1-2 tsp of sugar in one go, insulin is produced to make use of it for energy or store it – usually as fat around our middle!  Repeated daily exposure to too much sugar and the associated increases in insulin means that our cells become resistant to this insulin and we end up with lots of free floating sugar and insulin in our blood.  This can lead to:

  • a decreased ability to handle carbohydrates
  • increased insulin response to meals
  • excess fat gain
  • glycation, which leads to decreased biological activity of our proteins and is linked to
    • premature aging (wrinkles)
    • cancer
    • altered vision
    • Alzheimer’s disease
    • erectile dysfunction
    • kidney disease
    • joint pain and arthritis

To reduce the amount of sugar in your diet, first try to make what you can from scratch so that you know how much – and can limit – you are actually adding.  Anything you buy, make sure you read the ingredients.  Try to avoid anything with sugar as an added ingredient and aim for things that contain less than 5g per 100g of food (0g being the ultimate).  Don’t be surprised if you find it hard to give up the white stuff as it is highly addictive.  Some people might find it easier to go ‘cold turkey’, others prefer to gradually reduce their sugar intake.  Perhaps start by removing sugar from your tea or coffee or switching a high sugar cereal for something homemade (there are plenty of recipes on this blog you can choose from), gradually reduce sugary drinks, opting for water or herbal teas.  Try to reduce your overall refined carbohydrate intake, such as white breads, pasta, pastries and cakes, instead opting for wholefood, more slower digesting options such as wild rice, rolled oats and wholegrain breads.  At first you might find these changes hard, but very soon you will adapt.  You won’t be craving so much sweet stuff and you will be able to better taste those small amounts, if and when, you do eat them.  All-in-all your body will be much better off for it!