How Much Sugar Is Too Much?


This question seems to be a hot topic these days.  I probably get this question at least daily if not more.   In fact, today, I was asked 3 times!  So I thought, this would make a great blog post.  That, and I just finished reading an excellent book on sugar by Margaret Wertheim, Breaking The Sugar Habit,  which inspired the topic.

When it comes to sugar, there are 2 different types:

1.  Added sugar – Sugar that food manufactures add to food.
2. Naturally occurring sugar – Sugar that is naturally found in whole, unprocessed foods like fruits and vegetables (yes, they contain natural sugar), plain dairy products, and whole, unrefined grain products.

The one we are worried about is added sugars.   Unfortunately, the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation does not have guidelines for daily sugar intake.  However, the American Heart Association does and they recommend no more than:

How much sugar can you have in a day?

So, let me take you through a day of eating which most people would probably classify as healthy or low in sugar:

Breakfast: 1 serving Vanilla Almond Special K Cereal, sliced banana with 2% milk
Added sugar: 9g (cereal)

Snack: Honey, Oat and Flax Kashi granola bar and a piece of fruit
Added sugar: 9g (granola bar)

Lunch: Plain chicken salad with 2 TBP Kraft light balsamic dressing, Lipton 100% Natural Green Tea with Citrus
Added sugar: 4g (dressing), 27g (Lipton tea)

Snack: 1 container strawberry Yoplait yogurt
Added sugar: ~18g (sugared strawberry mixture)
Natural occurring sugar: ~8g (plain milk)

Dinner: Spaghetti with 1 serving of bottled tomato sauce (such as Prego Traditional), Dempsters white bread used for garlic toast
Added sugar: ~8g (sauce), 1.5g (bread)
Naturally occurring sugar: ~2g (tomatoes)

WOW!  That’s a whopping 87g of added sugar which is 22 teaspoons for a diet that seems pretty innocent. Definitely far off from what we are trying to achieve. You’ll likely be surprised to find that sugar is hidden in many products like you see above. It adds up fast. Other culprits of added sugar besides the obvious is store bought bread, granolas, soups, and sauces.

Increased intake of sugar has been found to promote weight gain by increasing insulin levels and, thus, promoting fat storage (1,3).  A high sugar intake is linked to the development of type 2 diabetes, which may increase risk for cardiovascular disease (1,3), and is linked to the development of metabolic disease (2).  Higher insulin levels have also been linked to the development of breast cancer.  And, probably the most important take home message, is that you do not need to be overweight or obese to be at increased health risk (3).

Now, I am certainly not trying to attribute the cause of our ill health all to sugar.  But, I do think that this paints a very clear picture showing just how much sugar is lurking in our food supply and how we need to pay close attention to what we’re eating if we want to take charge of our health.    So, take a second glance at the nutrition label AND ingredient lists to try and decrease your overall consumption.

What About Alternative Sugars?
Don’t think you’re doing your self any favours by reaching for alternative sweeteners (like diet pop) as these have been found to only perpetuate the desire for sweet tasting foods and have been found to enhance appetite (4)!   Probably the exact opposite of what you want to happen.  Stevia, another popular alternative sweetener, isn’t all it’s claimed to be.  The compound Rhubsaide A which is the main compound in stevia found on grocery stores and natural food store shelves is highly processed undergoing over 40 processing steps using known carcinogens such as isopropanol.

So what can you do to help decrease your sugar intake?  Become aware.  

1.  Read the ingredient list:
If sugar is listed within the first 5 ingredients, put it back.  If sugar is listed throughout the ingredient list (which will likely be in different names), it’s time to put that product back on the shelf.

2. Read the nutritional label and look to where it says “sugar:”
If the food you have is something that contains only naturally occurring sugars (see above for definition), then it is most likely OK. If the food doesn’t contain any naturally occurring sugars, then they are all added sugar, which is what you want to avoid.

More guidelines on how to read a nutrition label specifically for sugar is coming in another blog post.

So like I eluded to above, sugar hides out in pseudo names on the ingredient list. So, you need to become sugar savvy to be able to identify sugar that doesn’t explicitly say sugar.  And, also, I want to emphasize that sugar is sugar.  So, even if it may be a more natural type of sugar like date sugar, if it is added to a product it counts as an added sugar!

Will you be making any changes to what you eat based on the amount of sugar in your food?

Names for Sugar


1. Maersk M, Belza A et Al. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Feb;95(2):283-9. Sucrose-sweetened beverages increase fat storage in the liver, muscle, and visceral fat depot: a 6-mo randomized intervention study.
2. Richelsen B.  Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2013 Jul;16(4):478-84.  Sugar-sweetened beverages and cardio-metabolic disease risks
3. Wertheim M. Breaking The Sugar Habit.  Practical ways to cut the sugar, lose weight, and regain your health.
4.  Malik VS, Hu FB.  Curr Diab Rep. 2012 Jan 31.Sweeteners and Risk of Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes: The Role of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages.


  1. hey healthbean. love this post. just wanted to point out the math error. 44 g of sugar is only 11 tsp which is still more than you need but not 5-7x what you need! thought you might like to know so you can change it 😉

    • Thanks RJ, I completely missed on other things I wanted to add to the post too. I guess that’s what you get for working late 😉

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