How Much Sugar is in "Healthy" Foods?

We don't typically think about how much sugar is in the foods we eat. We know that certain "junk foods"- like ice cream and candy- are full of sugar. But the reality is that many foods we don't think of as junk food are also full of sugar.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends limiting free sugar intake to less than 10% of your total energy intake. Free sugar, according to the WHO, is sugar added to foods and drinks, as well as sugar naturally found in honey, syrup, and fruit juice. Free sugar does not include natural sugars found in dairy (as lactose) and naturally occurring sugar in whole fruits and vegetables (more on this later).

For a 2,000 calorie diet, 10% of total energy intake would be 200 calories from free sugar. Because one gram of sugar provides one gram of carbohydrates and there are four calories per gram of carbohydrate, this would mean that someone who eats 2,000 calories per day should consume, at most, 50 grams of free sugar (although less is always better) to help prevent obesity, tooth decay, and several other health problems.

Because sugar is often hidden in the processed foods we eat, the only way to know how much sugar you're consuming is to read the label.

Sugar in Drinks

Drinks can contain high amounts of free sugar, even if they are marketed as "healthy" drinks. You can see that a single 12 oz glass of chocolate almond milk contains half of the recommended maximum amount of sugar you should consume in an entire day.

Orange juice is worse, even though it's made from fruit. The WHO considers sugar in fruit juice to be free sugar, which is harmful. The naturally occurring sugars in a whole orange are not considered free sugars, as there is no evidence that these sugars cause adverse health effects. The reason for this is that the whole fruit contains other nutrients and components, like fiber, which help your body process the natural sugars. When given the option between a whole fruit and fruit juice, pick the whole fruit.

Sugar in Foods

You may be surprised to learn how much sugar is in ketchup. Given equal amounts of ice cream and ketchup, the ketchup has nearly twice as much sugar as the ice cream does. 1/4 cup of Nutella contains nearly the maximum amount of free sugar you should eat in an entire day.

Excessive sugar consumption has been linked to obesity, tooth decay, cancer, fatty liver disease, diabetes, and several other health problems. According to Harvard Health Publishing, those who obtain 25% of their daily energy from free sugars are more than twice as likely to die from heart disease as those who follow the WHO guideline of <10%.

All in all, it's best to minimize sugar intake as much as possible. Make sure you read the nutrition labels of processed foods you eat, choose the whole fruit over the fruit juice, and be aware when "healthy" foods are actually full of sugar.

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