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How Much Is Too Much?

The growing concern over too much added sugar in our diets

For most people, experts agree that some added sugar in the diet is fine. But the truth is, most Americans are consuming way too much — on average, nearly 66 pounds of added sugar per person, every year. This could be affecting us in ways that make us prone to craving more sugar and to obesity.

How much is okay?

Expert panels worldwide have made consistent recommendations on daily sugar intake. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar per day for women and 9 teaspoons (38 grams) for men.1 The AHA limits for children vary depending on their age and caloric needs, but range between 3-6 teaspoons (12 - 25 grams) per day.

That is in line with the World Health Organization's (WHO) recommendation that no more than 10% of an adult's calories – and ideally less than 5% – should come from added sugar or from natural sugars in honey, syrups and fruit juice. For a 2,000-calorie diet, 5% would be 25 grams.

Limit daily sugar to 6 tsps (25 g) for women, 9 tsps  (38 g) for men.

Yet, the average American consumes 19.5 teaspoons (82 grams) every day.2 That translates into about 66 pounds of added sugar consumed each year, per person.3

Children and teens are particularly at risk. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting total intake of discretionary calories, including both added sugars and fats, to 5% –15% per day. Yet children and adolescents in America obtain about 16% of their total caloric intake from added sugars alone.4,5

Sugar leaves us craving more

It's easy to exceed those limits. With as many as 11 teaspoons (46.2 grams) of added sugar in one 12 oz. soda, a single serving is close to double most people's daily sugar allowance.6 But sugar also is pervasive in our food supply. A leading brand of yogurt, for example, has 7 teaspoons (29 grams) of total sugars in a single serving, most of it added.

The sugar in one 12-oz soda is as much as in 1 orange + 16 strawberries + 2 plums.

Research also shows that, for some people, eating sugar produces characteristics of craving and withdrawal, along with chemical changes in the brain's reward center, the limbic region.

Using brain-scanning technology, scientists at the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse were among the first to show that sugar causes changes in peoples' brains similar to those in people addicted to drugs such as cocaine and alcohol.7,8 These changes are linked to a heightened craving for more sugar.9 This important evidence has set off a flood of research on the potentially addictive properties of sugar.10

Natural changes lead to weight gain

Consuming too much added sugar over long periods of time also can affect the natural balance of hormones that drive critical functions in the body. Eating sugar increases levels of glucose in the bloodstream, which leads the pancreas to release insulin. Higher levels of insulin, in turn, cause the body to store more food calories as fat.

Insulin also affects a hormone called leptin, which is our natural appetite suppressant that tells our brains we are full and can stop eating. Imbalanced insulin levels, along with high consumption of certain sugars, such as fructose, has been linked to a condition called leptin resistance,11 in which the brain no longer "hears" the message to stop eating, thus promoting weight gain and obesity.

Leptin resistance enabled our ancestors to survive long periods of limited food supply by encouraging them to overeat during times of plenty and enabling them to conserve more calories as fat. In the modern world, that's not a benefit. To make matters worse, people with leptin resistance also tend to feel sluggish, making it difficult to be active and contributing to further weight gain.

  • [1]Johnson, R.K., Appel, L., Brands, M., Howard, B., Lefevre, M., Lustig, R., Sacks, F., Steffen, L., & Wyllie-Rosett, J. (2009, September 15). Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation , 120(11), 1011-20. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.109.192627. Retrieved from http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/120/11/1011.full.pdf
  • [2]Ervin, R.B., & Ogden, C.L. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013). NCHS Data Brief, No. 122: Consumption of Added Sugars Among U.S. Adults, 2005–2010. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db122.pdf
  • [3]United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. (2012). USDA Sugar Supply: Tables 51-53: US Consumption of Caloric Sweeteners. Retrieved from http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/sugar-and-sweeteners-yearbook-tables.aspx
  • [4]U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2010). Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. Retrieved from http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2010/DietaryGuidelines2010.pdf
  • [5]Ervin, R.B., Kit, B.K., Carroll, M.D., & Ogden, C.L. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012). NCHS Data Brief No. 87: Consumption of added sugar among U.S. children and adolescents, 2005–2008. . Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db87.htm
  • [6]Soft drinks: sugar content. Retrieved from http://www.floridahealth.gov/chdcollier/Documents/ToothFairy/sugarinsodas.pdf
  • [7]Volkow, N.D., & Li, T.-K. (2004). Drug addiction: the neurobiology of behaviour gone awry. Nature Reviews Neuroscience , 5(12), 963-970.
  • [8]Brownell, K.D., & Gold, M.S. (2012). Food and addiction: A comprehensive handbook. () Oxford University Press.
  • [9]Avena, N., Rada, P., & Hoebel, B. (2008). Evidence for sugar addiction: behaviroal and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake. Neuroscience Behavior Review , 52(1), 20-39. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17617461
  • [10]Garber, A.K., & Lustig, R.H. (2011). Is fast food addictive?. Current Drug Abuse Reviews , 4(3), 146-162.
  • [11]Shapiro, A., Mu, W., Roncal, C., Cheng, K.-Y., Johnson, R.J., & Scarpace, P.J. (2008). Fructose-induced leptin resistance exacerbates weight gain in response to subsequent high-fat feeding. American Journal of Physiology. Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology , 295(5), R1370–1375. doi:10.1152/ajpregu.00195.2008

World Health Organization

The World Health Organization (WHO) is the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system. It is responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health trends. Website: http://www.who.int

SugarScience Glossary

Added sugar

Any sugar added in preparation of foods, either at the table, in the kitchen or in the processing plant. This may include sucrose, high fructose corn syrup and others.

SugarScience Glossary

Fruit juice

This is a drink that is made entirely (100%) from the liquid which comes from squeezing or grinding up the part of the fruit we would normally eat. Sugar is not added to this drink. The drink will have the sugars that come from the food itself. The juice will likely have less fiber than the fruit. Fiber serves to decrease the speed and amount of sugars absorbed from sugary foods.

SugarScience Glossary

Sugars

Sugars are chemicals made of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen found which taste sweet and are found in food. They are an important part of what we eat and drink and of our bodies. On this site, sugar is used to mean simple sugars (monosaccharides) like fructose or glucose, and disaccharides like table sugar (sucrose). Sucrose is two simple sugars stuck together for example (see Table sugar). Sugars are a type of carbohydrate. Carbohydrates are energy sources for our bodies Sugars enter the blood stream very quickly after being eaten.

SugarScience Glossary

Leptin

A hormone produced mostly in fat cells in response to eating and to how much energy is stored in the body. It effects the brain and tells us we have eaten enough and to stop eating.

SugarScience Glossary

Fat

One of the three major groups of nutrients we eat. Much of this website is related to problems associated with too much fat storage in the body. Each gram of fat produces 9 calories of energy if burned by the body as fuel. Fat can be stored in many places in the body. We generally think of fat as under the skin (subcutaneous), but the fat that may be most damaging to us is the fat stored in the liver and around the organs of the abdomen (intrahepatic and visceral or abdominal or intra-abdominal)

SugarScience Glossary

Fructose

A sugar that we eat. Also called fruit sugar. Most fructose comes in sucrose (table sugar, cane sugar, beet sugar), or from high-fructose corn syrup.

SugarScience Glossary

Glucose

Glucose is a sugar we eat. It is found in starch. It is the main fuel for our bodies. It is the sugar measured when we have a blood test to measure the blood sugar.

SugarScience Glossary

Pancreas

The pancreas is an internal organ that helps us digest our food by making insulin and other chemicals.

SugarScience Glossary

Insulin

Insulin is a messenger released from the pancreas after eating, which shunts energy (glucose or triglycerides) from the blood into fat cells for storage. Insulin is given to some people with diabetes to lower the blood glucose; it leaves the blood and enters the fat cell for storage.

SugarScience Glossary

Hormone

A chemical created by the body and released into the blood stream. Upon reaching another part of the body or organ, a hormone effects the function of that bodily part or organ.

SugarScience Glossary

SugarScience Facts

Overconsumption of added sugar is linked to type 2 diabetes, a disease affecting 26 million Americans.

SugarScience Facts

Too much added sugar from soda and sports drinks overloads critical organs, which can lead to diseases.

SugarScience Facts

Americans consume an average of 66 pounds of added sugar each year.

SugarScience Facts

Growing scientific evidence shows that too much added sugar, over time, is linked to diabetes, heart disease and liver disease.

SugarScience Facts

Consuming too many added sugars can make you overweight, which strains the heart.

SugarScience Facts

Too much fructose in added sugar can damage your liver just like too much alcohol.

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