How much sugar is too much sugar? A research team in Sweden recently tried to find out. Their results were just published in the journal Nutrition & Metabolism.
Nearly two decades of data from nearly 14,000 total participants was collected from a pair of national studies: the National Swedish Food Survey of Adults (Riksmaten Adults) and the Malmö Diet and Cancer Study. The question the researchers wanted to answer was simple: Does added sugar (a non-nutrient) affect a person’s intake of micronutrients – things your body actually needs to function properly, such as calcium, folate, iron, magnesium, potassium, selenium, vitamin C, vitamin D, and zinc?
In a word, yes.
The higher the intake of added sugar in the diet, the more likely it is that the intake of micronutrients will be compromised.
This finding is in line with other studies from around the world. What the team couldn’t determine, though, was a definite upper limit for added sugars – some point where the amount of added sugar clearly and significantly reduced micronutrient consumption.
Current global guidelines vary, although making added sugar no more than 10% of your total caloric intake each day seems to be the consensus rule, although 5% is often held up as the ideal.
To put that into perspective, if you eat 2000 calories a day, 10% would be 50 grams of sugar, or a little less than a 16-ounce bottle of Coke; 5% is 25 grams, or a little less than a 12-ounce can.
More perspective: There’s some evidence that the sugar max should be 3% or less if you truly want to prevent tooth decay.
Of course, it really shouldn’t be too surprising to hear that the more sugary junk you consume, the less room there is for the healthy, minimally processed foods that do your body good. Plus, sugar is addictive. Eating it just makes you want more.
What to do?
Just like with everything you consume, read those labels. Sugar is hidden in all kinds of foods – not just desserts and sweet treats, but also spicy and savory foods and sauces. Organic packaged foods aren’t much different – and organic sugar is just as effective at contributing to tooth decay and systemic disease.
Also, unless your health status really doesn’t permit it, no one is saying you can never have sugar again. Here’s what the good folks at the Weston A. Price Foundation have to say:
For healthy individuals, the threshold of added sugar is two teaspoons at one time, no more than two to three times a day, totaling two tablespoons altogether. This means any sugar—white table sugar, dehydrated cane sugar juice, maple syrup, honey, dextrose, brown rice syrup, maple sugar or coconut sugar. For unhealthy individuals, no amount of sugar is recommended.
Last, rediscover the sweetness of whole foods with just enough natural sugars to satisfy your cravings without bankrupting your body. According to Ayurvedic medicine, natural sweetness is actually an essential and life-promoting taste which everyone needs in their diet. So it’s not a matter of denying yourself but instead finding which natural foods can satisfy the taste you crave.
Adding cinnamon to plain, whole fat yogurt is one way to spice up your breakfast without adding sugar, and if you throw in some diced mango or a handful of berries, it could even double as dessert. Sweet potatoes or carrots roasted with cinnamon and grass-fed butter are also wonderfully satisfying, especially if you’re looking for something more in the warm and cozy comfort food category.
If you really want to experiment in the kitchen, try a new recipe – avocado coconut cacao pudding anyone? Or have the kids help you make a peanut butter banana smoothie that’s sure to give you a whole new outlook on sugar-free.