How Much Sugar is Too Much?

Worried that you’re eating too much sugar? Willow Jarosh and Stephanie Clarke, of CJ Nutrition, explain how to cut out the extra sweetness in your life.

Q: Why should we avoid sugars and what impact can they have on our health?

A: We don’t recommend that people avoid sugar entirely. Instead, we recommend they minimize the amount of added sugar they have in their diet. Here’s why:
1. Sugar offers no nutrition, just calories.
2. Glucose, a type of sugar, is our body’s primary and preferred source of fuel. Our bodies are efficient at using it.

Q: Are all sugars bad or are some better than others?

A: Foods with lots of added sugar tend to create a fast and sharp rise in blood sugar, followed by a fast and sharp drop — causing ups and downs in energy level and, often, mood. Foods that have natural sugars, like fruit (which contains fiber) and dairy (which contains protein), don’t have such a marked effect on blood sugar because they contain nutrients that help slow the absorption of sugar into the blood.

Natural sweeteners — like honey, table sugar, raw sugar, maple syrup and agave nectar — aren’t much better. They’re all basically the same in terms of calories and the amount of sugar they contain per teaspoon. So don’t be fooled by products that say they’re sweetened with honey versus white sugar. It’s all added sugar.

Q: Which foods are surprisingly sugary?

A: Instant oatmeal; “healthy” cereals (a cereal labelled “healthy,” “organic” or “smart” can have more sugar per serving than a sugary kid’s cereal); bottled smoothies (all-fruit options as well as yogurt and fruit smoothies) can have 40 or more grams of sugar per bottle; bottled iced teas may have 25 or more grams of sugar per bottle; some marinara sauces have up to eight to 10 grams of sugar per 1/2 cup; and some condiments (ketchup, Teriyaki sauce, some salad dressings).

According to the Canadian Sugar Institute, Canadians consume approximately 13 per cent of their energy (calories) as added sugar — equivalent to about 65 grams of added sugar per person per day. This is considered a moderate amount. Anything over may be unsafe.

Q: What are your tips for how to avoid consuming excess sugars?

A: We recommend buying the plain (sugar-free) versions of foods and adding flavor via herbs, spices, fruit, nuts and, if you need it, a little bit of a sweetener (maple syrup, brown sugar, honey flavored). For example, instead of choosing sweetened instant oatmeal, use plain instant oats and add cinnamon, walnuts and chopped apple for flavor.

Also, pay attention to portion size. If you’re eating something with added sugar, make sure you eat only one portion (or less) and then complement that meal/snack with something sans the sweet stuff. You can also balance the sugar with protein, fat and fiber (if you’re having sweetened yogurt, sprinkle some pistachios on it).

Try to get your fruit servings via whole fruit (fresh or frozen). The sugar in fruit is accompanied by fibre and lots of nutrients, which helps keep blood sugar steady and also makes you feel fuller for longer.

Last but not least, read labels carefully. For every four grams of sugar you see on a nutrition label, one teaspoon of sugar has been added. Of course, if there’s fruit or dairy in the item too some of the sugar is naturally occurring. Read the ingredients to make sure the fruit/dairy are listed before the sugar.