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Sep 06

What is a Normal Sugar Intake?

Is there a “normal” daily requirement for sugar? Most people have glanced at a nutrition label from time to time, checking to see how many calories, how much protein and so on there is in the food they eat. Besides the entries for protein, fat, total carbohydrates and other nutrients, there is a listing for the daily requirements for that nutrient, but there is no such entry for sugar. Here is what the Food and Drug Administration’s website has to say about the sugar content information on food labeling –

Sugars: No daily reference value has been established for sugars because no recommendations have been made for the total amount to eat in a day. Keep in mind, the sugars listed on the Nutrition Facts label include naturally occurring sugars (like those in fruit and milk) as well as those added to a food or drink. Check the ingredient list for specifics on added sugars.”

sugarA better question is, “How much added sugar should be consumed in a day?” This is an important query, because in many cases the amount of added sugar far outweighs the amount of natural sugar in the product. A cup of blueberries contains less than 15 grams of naturally occurring sugar. Most of the carbohydrates found in berries are fiber. However, a cup of blueberry pie filling contains about 99 grams of sugar; the 84 gram difference is added.

For most of history, this was not an issue. There was no source of sugar available to add to any food product, so there was no concern. As small amounts of cane sugar became available, they appeared to cause no problem. Modern farming and food science has changed that. Added sugar is now plentiful and cheap.  In the late 1960’s and 70’s new industrial processes made it possible to economically produce the product we call, “high fructose corn syrup” (HFCS). Farming interests were delighted by this, because they were able to produce far more corn than could be consumed by humans and farm animals. Now, there was a huge new market for this corn.

There are several other sources of the sugar that is now added to thousands of food products. This includes “sugar beets” and cane sugar. Sugar cane growers in the state of Florida produced 16.88 million tons of sugar cane in 2017. Needless to say, this is a big business, and it is also a big problem. When consumed, that added sugar is quickly absorbed into the blood stream and this leads to medical problems, notably diabetes and obesity.

We have often written about this title wave of sugar (see The Sugar Mill). In 2000, America’s annual sugar consumption peaked at an average of 149 pounds per person. This was up from little more than zero for most of human history. The FDA has classified sugar additives like high fructose corn syrup as “safe.”  In a strict sense it is, but the habitual over consumption of added sugars is not.

If the FDA does not have a recommendation for a minimal amount of added sugar each day, the Heart Association does have one for the maximum amount consistent with good health. It is 36 grams for men and 25 grams for women. Consider that a single can of RC Cola contains 40 grams of sugar and you can start to see the problem, but it is not just soft drinks that are to blame. Most people consume more sugar than they realize because they do not know where it is. Added sugars contribute zero nutrients but many added calories.

So, here is the bottom line:

  • Accepted dietary guidelines recommend that carbohydrates make up 45 to 65 percent of total daily calories, but there is no minimum requirement for added sugar.
  • Try to limit your intake of added sugar to no more than 100 calories per day for women (about 6 teaspoons) and no more than 150 calories per day for men (9 teaspoons). That means 25 to 36 grams of sugar total in a day.
  • Take advantage of the new (2016 version) labeling on food products. The figures for total sugar and added sugar are in the carbohydrate section. Avoid foods with large amounts of added sugar. The example below shows a food product that contains 12 grams of total sugar. 10 of those 12 grams have been added during processing.

nutrition labelLimiting the consumption of total sugar is a good idea for all people, including those who are at a healthy weight.  But do not be misled into thinking that all carbohydrates are bad. A “low-carb” diet will help you to lose weight, but some carbohydrate calories are needed to perform daily activities. It is total sugar, especially excess added sugar that should be avoided.

The central Florida community is blessed with several resources that can help you achieve your weight loss goal, but you must take the first step. This month, as every month, our practice hosts a Monthly Bariatric Support Group Meeting on the third Thursday (September 20). This meeting starts at 5 PM in our main office located at Florida Hospital Memorial Medical Center. Patients can discover a wide range of options offered by the hospital and other organizations, including diet, exercise and nutrition programs.

If achieving a safe weight loss is your goal and first-line measures like diet, exercise or behavior modification have failed, then weight loss surgery might be one option. A thorough evaluation by a qualified physician is the only way to determine if bariatric surgery is appropriate for you. If our clinic can be of assistance in any way, please contact us by phone at (386) 210-9794 or by clicking Contact Dr Birkedal. Our offices, located in Daytona, New Smyrna and Palm coast are all part of the Florida Hospital network.

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