Good question. Here’s what you need to know about sugar:
In Short: Eating too much added sugar is linked to weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels, cardiovascular disease and cavities. (Note the emphasis on added.)
Is it categorically bad? No. Sugar has been singled out as the root of all health evils (like all carbohydrates and fats before it), but it’s not that simple. The sugars naturally found in fruit and dairy are not the problem. They come in a healthy package along with water, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
It’s the empty calories from added sugars—the sugar added to processed foods—that we need to cut back on.
The major sources of added sugar in the American diet are sweetened beverages like regular soft drinks, energy drinks and sports drinks (36% of added sugar intake), grain-based desserts (13%), sweetened fruit drinks (10%), dairy-based desserts (6%) and candy (6%), according to the U.S. 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. If that sounds like your diet, cut back.
How to eat less: Eat more whole foods and fewer processed foods. Drink water and unsweetened beverages instead of sugary ones.
Compare the nutrition facts among different brands and choose the one that’s lower in sugar. You can translate grams of sugar into teaspoons with this easy trick: 4 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon. You divide the total grams of sugar per serving by 4 to get the amount in teaspoons. Here’s an example:
How much is OK? There is room for added sugar in your diet.
The World Health Organization recommends reducing added sugar to less than 10% of your total calories, and less than 5% if possible. For someone on a 2,000 calorie diet, that would be a maximum intake of 200 calories of added sugar (50 grams or 12.5 teaspoons).
The American Heart Association has a stricter guideline: about 150 calories (38 grams or 6 teaspoons per day) for most women and 200 calories (50 grams or 9 teaspoons) for most men. (That one bottle of Crush Orange Soda was way over the daily recommended limit.)
Bottom Line: Don’t worry about being perfect; just be conscious of what you’re eating. Some days, you’ll eat more sugar than other days (I know I do), but that’s okay – part of the joy of being alive is eating a warm chocolate chip cookie. Maybe with a little vanilla ice cream. Maybe. Okay, probably. Okay, definitely.
Damn you floaties.
Note: A version of this post originally appeared on HealthWarrior.com (I write nutrition content for their website/e-mail list)