Basics · Nutrition

Eat up! The truth about sugar

Over the years, I’ve built up a pretty good wall of self-control when it comes to eating sweets. Not a lot tempts me. But there are certain treats that pull me in so hard that my self-control doesn’t exist. Like my sister’s chocolate chip cookies. Oh. My. Goodness. I can’t resist them any more than a fly can resist a light bulb.

Sugar is pretty amazing, when you think about it. It makes everything taste good. Kind of like butter. Sugar and butter. They add so much goodness to life.


Like butter, the problem with sugar is that it’s hard to truly eat it in moderation. Did that one cookie satisfy me tonight? Sort of. But tomorrow night I’ll definitely eat two. The next night I may even sneak a third. Or fourth.

You see, food has a way of messing with our brains. Each time we indulge in a tasty treat, we need a little more of it than the last time in order to feel the same sense of satisfaction. It’s cruel, really. But that’s not how it has to be. We can reprogram our brains but not without the right information and knowing how to put that information to use for our good.

How do you do it? First, by not putting yourself in the path of temptation too often. This is a tip you’ve probably heard often but it’s a good one.  If you know you tend to eat more of something than you should then don’t buy it. If it’s not in the house, you can’t eat it. Second, by knowing how much sugar you’re actually eating. If you know how much added sugar you should be eating a day and the amount of added sugar that is actually in food your food, then you have all the information you need to make the best choice. You have the power! That is what I want to teach you. I want you to read a nutrition label and be able to determine how much added sugar is in that item and whether or not it fits within the recommended daily allowance.

So how much sugar is too much? Some sugars are naturally occurring in our foods and others, like table sugar, are not. It’s the added sugar that we need to worry about. The World Health Organization recommends the average healthy adult eats no more than six teaspoons of added sugar a day. The American Heart Association says women should have no more than six teaspoons and men should have no more than nine teaspoons. There are roughly four grams of sugar in each teaspoon, so women should consume no more than 24 grams of sugar a day and men should consume no more than 36 grams of sugar a day.

That may not seem too difficult until you stop and read some food labels. In the link I posted above, the American Heart Association has a good breakdown of certain foods based on the amount of calories added by sugar. Here is a similar list, but I included the number of grams as well as the added calories since nutrition labels tell us the amount of sugar in grams. (Tip: There are four calories per gram of sugar.)

Food item Added calories from sugar Added sugar in grams
Carbonated soda, 12 oz. can 132 calories 33 grams
Non-fat fruit yogurt, 6 oz 77 calories 19 grams
Milk chocolate, 1 1.55-oz bar 77.4 calories 19 grams
Fruit punch, 12 oz can 62 calories 16 grams
Strawberry Pop-Tart 64 calories 16 grams
Vanilla ice cream, 1/2 cup 48 calories 12 grams
Strawberry NutriGrain bar 44 calories 11 grams
Chocolate chip cookies, one 13.6 calories 3 grams

So one can of soda has more added sugar than anyone should consume in a day. Yikes! And even some “healthy” foods, like non-fat fruit yogurt and NutriGrain bars, pack it in. Others, like the added sugar in vanilla ice cream and chocolate chip cookies, come as no real surprise but it’s still eye-opening.

Soon, nutrition labels will be modified to include the total amounts of both naturally occurring sugar and added sugar. This is awesome! When you read a nutrition label, focus on the “Added Sugar” line and remember to try to keep the amount of added sugar you consume in a day under 24 grams (six teaspoons).

FitTip:  Adding a little extra sugar to your meals is not a big deal, so long as it truly is a little. Pay close attention to food labels and ignore what the branding is trying to tell you about how healthy a particular item is. Remember that four grams of sugar is roughly equal to one teaspoon, and you should have no more than six teaspoons of added sugar a day. That’s 24 grams of added sugar per day (96 calories).


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