My daughter was watching a cooking show this morning and a family was trying to cook healthier. One of the boys in the show said he wanted to add honey to his dessert instead of sugar because it was a healthier choice.
My dietitian ears perked up and quickly dispelled the myth to my easily influenced child and then I stared off into space a little and wondered how these myths are still out there.
We hear a lot about sugar — what it is, how much we should have, and why we shouldn’t eat too much.
What is Added Sugar?
Added sugar is any sugar that was added during processing. Regardless of the source of the sugar, it’s still sugar. Here are some examples of added sugar:
- Maple syrup
- Granulated sugar/brown sugar
- Coconut sugar
Added sugar is NOT sugar from fruit or sugar in dairy (lactose). Those are naturally occurring and are not considered added sugars.
How Much Should We Have?
There is obviously no minimum amount of sugar we need. Sugar is a carbohydrate. During digestion, carbohydrates are broken down into molecules of glucose and that’s what we use for energy. So, there is no requirement for sugar. We can get glucose from any carb.
We all like to have a guide of what we can eat, so the American Heart Association has set a maximum recommendation of no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day for women and children and 9 teaspoons for men — that’s 24-36 grams of added sugar per day.
For reference, one can of cola has around 33 grams of added sugar and a milk chocolate bar has 21 grams of added sugar.
Limits are good. They work because they let us know that sugar can have a place in a healthy diet.
Why Shouldn’t We Eat Too Much?
For the obvious reasons, too much sugar is basically excess calories with little to no nutritional value. Eating too much sugar crowds out the space for healthy foods.
Excess added sugar has been shown to increase inflammation in the body and that can put you at an increased risk for heart disease. Excess sugar also has the potential to burden the liver and increase the amount of fat converted from carbohydrate. Over time, this accumulation of excess fat can contribute to heart disease.
Bottom Line: Sugar makes food taste good and there’s no need to eliminate it completely from the diet. Know your limits and fill your plate with mostly with foods without added sugar.