If you’ve ever wondered “How much sugar is too much sugar?“, you’re in for a treat!
Before I can break that down for you, you have to know how to figure out the amount of sugar in your food. That’s the most complicated part of this process.
You’ve probably noticed that all of the nutrition information is listed in grams. But do you even know what a gram of sugar looks like or what it means for your health?
Probably not. Most people don’t have any idea.
That’s because a gram isn’t a tangible real-life measurement that you use within the cooking world (unless you’re weighing your ingredients).
In the previous podcast (LISTEN HERE), I shared that you are exposed to 17 weeks of sugar conditioning from Labor Day to the week of Christmas here in the US.
A big piece of the problem is that information on food labels is intentionally unclear or confusing. It leaves you unsure of what’s healthy and often misleads savvy shoppers into believing something is healthier than it is.
One of the biggest “unhealthy” foods includes dried cranberries that have been marketed heavily as a healthy alternative. In reality, they’re a sneaky way to increase sugar content to your food.
How To Translate Grams Of Sugar To Something You Understand
So let’s go back to my point about what a gram looks like!
First of all, ingredient lists are created by ranking ingredients in a product. The list is written in descending order starting with the ingredient that the product contains the most of.
Sometimes companies will use several different types of sweeteners so that they show up lower in the list. This is one of the misleading tactics to make you think that there’s not that much sugar in the product.
If you have any hopes of outsmarting crafty marketing, here’s what you need to do…
Start by finding the total grams of sugar in a single serving.
Take the total number of grams of sugar and divide it by 4.
That will tell you the number of teaspoons of sugar in a single serving.
Because you know what a teaspoon of sugar is.
Discovering that your favorite drink or snack or dessert has way more sugar in it than you thought is, frankly, upsetting.
Especially when you thought that you were making a healthier choice.
And FYI — more natural sweeteners like honey or maple syrup used in Paleo products and baked goods aren’t necessarily better. They’re still sugar.
They may not be as processed, but they certainly have an effect on your body, its hormones, your gut, and other systems.
Don’t be shocked if you discover that even the “natural sweeteners” can trigger your sweet tooth.
I’ve worked with a lot of clients who were misled into thinking that they could eat all of the paleo brownies and cookies they wanted because they used natural sweeteners.
How Much Sugar Is Too Much In Your Diet?
Wondering how much sugar is too much is a great question. It means you’re aware and concerned about the effects that excess sugar has on your health.
First, you should know that the answer to this question is largely based on added sugar in your diet.
That means, health organizations don’t care how much fruit you consume in a day. The sugars that naturally occur in them would be considered natural sugars… not added.
However, they would consider fruit juice crystals, honey, maple syrup, or coconut palm sugar in a food product to be added since those sugars were not naturally occurring, but clearly added (which you can verify on the ingredient list or a recipe).
According to the American Heart Association, they keep a pretty tight leash on added sugar.
Women should not exceed 6 teaspoons of added sugar, while men should not exceed 9 teaspoons per day.
(Isn’t it funny that they specifically list this information on their site in teaspoons, but know darn well that you probably don’t know the grams-to-teaspoons conversion that I just shared with you.)
I’d recommend tracking the amount of added sugar to your diet for three days.
Each day, tally the total grams of sugar you’ve eaten (remember to account for serving sizes!!!). Then divide that number by four so you know the number of teaspoons.
Check out your favorite bars and other products that you buy and see how they stack up!
Do Carbs Count Into Your Sugar Intake?
The short answer is YES… carbs count.
I want to be clear that in no way am I suggesting that carbs are bad and that you should avoid them.
But this will explain to you why diabetics can’t have something like brown rice pasta even though there isn’t any sugar present.
If you pick up a box of pasta or something with a decent carb load, take a look at the Total Carbohydrate section. Underneath, you’ll then see dietary fiber and sugar content.
It could look something like this (pulling this directly from a box of gluten free pancake mix):
Total carbohydrates: 41g
Dietary Fiber: 1g
If you looked at this purely from a sugar content perspective, you’d say that each serving has ¾ tsp of sugar in it. And that it wasn’t too bad!
However, this product has a lot of starchy carbs in it.
To find out how much in it in, you’ll subtract the grams of dietary fiber and sugars from total carbohydrates.
In this particular case, 41g – 1g – 3g = 37g.
So when you eat a single serving of this particular product, your digestive system will break down that remaining 37g of carbs into their smallest units before they are absorbed.
The smallest biochemical unit is glucose.
That’s why a product like this would be off limits to someone with blood sugar issues even though it technically has very little sugar included in it from an ingredients perspective.
Why Your Sugar Addiction Isn’t Your Fault
Do you see the problem now?
This is one of the reasons why people who go gluten free often end up with a ridiculous sugar addiction.
In fact, after working with clients for the past eight years on this, it’s pretty common to notice a significant uptick in sugar cravings after going gluten free.
That 17 weeks of the constant influx of sugar (and potentially way too many carbs) skews your microbiome to favor bugs that aren’t so friendly to you.
And it rewires your brain and taste buds to expect it.
So much so that every meal isn’t complete without dessert.
And before you know it, your cravings have taken over to a point where you can’t control how much sugar you eat.
If you’re thinking… “gosh, I really don’t want to know all of this… ignorance is such bliss”… Trust me – you definitely want to know.
What’s not blissful are painful skin rashes that keep you awake all night long itching.
Or having diarrhea so much that you can’t go out without knowing exactly where all of the bathrooms are (and hoping that none are occupied when you need to make a mad dash).
Or even dealing with painful constipation that makes you feel like your body is bloated and sluggish. Or your already struggling thyroid that can’t keep up with the ups and downs of your blood sugar.
Or the brain fog, mood swings, the “I can’t keep my eyes open” fatigue all day long, and any other number of symptoms that you wish every day would just disappear.
I know you’re listening to this with every intention of becoming educated to make the best decisions for yourself… so here are a few more tips to help you over the holiday season.
More Tips To Keep Your Sweet Tooth In Check During The Holidays
Eat before you go to a party and bring a healthier dessert that you will eat.
Put a cap on how much alcohol you’ll drink. I typically will stick with one glass of wine and then afterward, just stick with club soda or water with lemon or lime in it.
Eat more protein! I often find that clients are skimping on the protein and rely too much on quick carbs to keep them going. During the holidays, get more protein in your diet even if it’s through protein shakes.
Choose healthier sweeteners to bake with. Yes, things may taste different, but you’ll get used to it. Swap out coconut palm sugar for cane sugar. Or try some of the alternatives like Swerve (erythritol-based making it a high FODMAP option), stevia, or monk fruit.
Stop saying that you’re being “bad” if you eat something with sugar. It’s ultimately your choice whether you choose to indulge or not. It’s not about being “bad” or “good”. I realize that we’ve had many years of conditioning with diet, but that “bad” vs “good” mentality is actually very unhelpful.
I’d argue that it actually creates more problems that lead to binging on sugar and dessert foods.
Self-punishment only leads to a vicious cycle of feeling awful and then seeking comfort — both of which drive you to eat more sugar.
If you’re ready for some help, check out this webinar I’m hosting:
Kiss Your Sugar Cravings Good-bye (And Ditch The Inflammation Driving Your Symptoms)
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I’ll be diving deep on the problems that sugar addiction creates and why the results can be so hard to break if you don’t know the three steps I’ve discovered over the years. I want to share them with you and hope to see you there!
And I’d love to hear in the comments what’s the most eye-opening snack or favorite food you’ve found that’s loaded with more sugar than you ever thought!
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