Too Much Sugar: Why Excess Sugar Is So Dangerous

Written by: Erin Coleman,

B.S. - Nutritional Science, R.D., L.D.

Writer, The Fit Mother Project

Written by: Erin Coleman,

B.S. - Nutritional Science, R.D., L.D.

Writer, The Fit Mother Project

too much sugar

If you're worried about consuming too much sugar in your diet, you're not alone, as many people ingest more added sugar than they should.

While sugar tastes good in the moment, it's not worth eroding your physical and mental health.

Natural sugar is present in fruits, vegetables, 100% fruit and vegetable juices, milk, and products containing milk as an ingredient.

The sugar naturally present in whole foods doesn't contribute to many of the problems linked to added sugar consumption.

Added sugar gets put into foods and drinks during the manufacturing process to enhance sweet tastes.

It adds unnecessary calories without providing beneficial nutrients, though it does give you a quick boost of energy.

And while it may seem OK, another thing to watch out for is artificial sugar.

Artificial sugar tastes sweet but is calorie-free.

It tricks your brain into thinking you're eating real sugar, releasing insulin and ultimately causing low blood sugar levels.

This, in turn, increases hunger, fatigue, and oftentimes irritability.

Artificial sugar can boost your cravings for real sugar, and the risk of weight gain and diabetes.

Common names for artificial sugar include aspartame, neotame, saccharin, acesulfame, and sucralose.

Limit them as much as possible in favor of whole foods, natural sugars, monk fruit, low doses of stevia, or erythritol.

Keep reading to learn how to adjust your diet to avoid too much sugar and make clean eating your go-to method!

Learn how to reduce sugar addiction and recognize sugar addiction symptoms!

Why Too Much Added Sugar Is Bad

Sugar that gets added to food and drinks during processing is the type of sugar you should avoid as much as possible.

Obesity and Chronic Diseases

The main reason too much added sugar is bad is that studies show added sugar is associated with a higher risk of obesity.

This, in turn, increases your chance of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic conditions.

Additional studies have linked high amounts of added sugar with poor sleep quality, another risk factor for obesity.

Oral Health Problems

Excessive sugar also increases your chance of tooth decay, gum disease, and additional oral health issues.

Furthermore, gum disease and heart disease are linked to each other, as having gum disease may double or even triple your chance of having a stroke, heart attack, or other heart problems.

Don't overdo it. Limit added sugar as much as you can to maintain exceptional health and wellness.

How Much Added Sugar Can I Safely Consume?

While there are no guidelines in place for natural sugars, you can use the general recommendations below to determine if you're eating too much sugar.

The Harvard School of Public Health notes that the average person consumes about 17 teaspoons of added sugar daily, which is due to consuming diets rich in highly processed, pre-packaged foods.

  • 4 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • 40 grams of sugar = 10 teaspoons of sugar

Based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, Americans 2 and older should limit added sugar to less than 10% of their total calorie needs.

This means that if you consume 2,000 calories per day, you should limit calories from added sugar to 200, equating to 50 grams daily or about 12 teaspoons of added sugar per day.

The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests consuming no more than 24 grams of added sugar daily for women, no more than 36 grams of added sugar per day for men, and less than 24 grams daily for kids and teens ages 2-18.

You should also limit sugary beverages to no more than 8 ounces per week, the AHA suggests.

In addition to looking at the grams of added sugar on food labels, another good way to track added sugar in foods is to use the % daily value (%DV) feature on food labels.

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, foods and drinks containing low amounts of added sugar provide 5% DV or less of added sugar per serving, while foods and drinks containing 20% DV for added sugar or more are high-sugar items.

Therefore, when choosing breakfast cereals, oatmeal, protein bars, or other pre-packaged foods, pick those containing 5% DV of added sugar or less per serving.

Common Names for Added Sugar

When looking at the ingredient list on the nutrition facts labels of your favorite foods, be aware of the following common names for added sugar:

  • Corn syrup
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Crystalline Fructose
  • Corn sweetener
  • Agave nectar
  • Brown sugar
  • Sugar
  • Raw sugar
  • Cane crystals
  • Cane sugar
  • Coconut sugar
  • Corn sweetener
  • Honey
  • Fruit juice concentrates
  • Malt sugar
  • Invert sugar
  • Molasses
  • Maple syrup
  • Malt syrup
  • Dextrose
  • Sucrose
  • Evaporated cane juice

Food labels provide the number of grams of total sugar, grams of added sugar, and % daily value (DV) for total and added sugars.

This makes it simple to determine if you're consuming too much sugar.

Foods That Contain Added Sugar

Some foods containing added sugar are obvious, while others may surprise you.

Examples of foods and drinks that have varying amounts of added sugar in them include:

Sugar-Sweetened Drinks

Beverages that often contain added sugar include soda, lemonade, sweet tea, sports drinks, sweetened juice drinks, and sweetened coffee drinks.

A 12-ounce can of cola contains about 40 grams of added sugar.

Diet sodas and other diet drinks aren't much better, as they often contain artificial sugars that are linked with weight gain.

Condiments and Sauces

Many sauces and popular condiments are also sources of added sugar, which can add extra calories to a diet plan without you realizing it.

Examples include ketchup, barbeque sauce, tomato sauce, honey mustard, honey, teriyaki sauce, and many salad dressings.

Check the ingredient label on your favorite condiments to determine how much added sugar they contain per serving.

Choose “no sugar added” options or items containing 5% DV added sugar or less per serving.

Sweets and Baked Goods

You probably already know that sweets and baked goods aren't the best for your health, as they're usually loaded with added sugar or refined grains.

Limit or avoid desserts, such as ice cream, candy bars, cakes, and sweet bread, as much as you can, or choose healthier alternatives like frozen fruit smoothies and dark chocolate.

Some Canned Foods

Not all canned foods contain added sugar but are sources of sodium, sugar, or both.

Don't overindulge in canned foods containing added sugar.

Examples include baked beans, some canned soups, and canned fruits packed in syrup.

Flavored Yogurt

Many flavored yogurts contain added sugar as an ingredient.

Greek yogurt, especially plain, is often much lower in added sugar than regular yogurt, so choose it whenever possible!

Flavored Dairy Drinks

Flavored dairy drinks, such as chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry milk (or fruit-flavored kefir), are often loaded with added sugar.

But that doesn't mean you should avoid milk and kefir, as these beverages are packed with protein, calcium, and vitamin D.

Simply choose unsweetened milk, plant milk, or kefir instead!

Granola and Protein Bars

Granola, granola bars, and many protein bars are known for containing large amounts of added sugar.

While not all of these bars are equivalent to sweet treats, many of them aren't the best option for your health.

Choose low-sugar protein bars, or low-sugar granola bars fortified with protein, to avoid consuming too much sugar.

Sugar-Sweetened Breakfast Cereals

Many families enjoy cereal or oatmeal for breakfast, but the bad news is that many of these products are packed with added sugar.

Look for breakfast cereals without added sugar or choose those containing very small amounts (5% of your DV or less per serving) or pick unflavored oatmeal.

Diet Foods and Drinks

Many diet sodas, sugar-free sweet drinks, sugar-free candy, and other diet foods contain artificial sugars, which aren't any better for your body than added sugar.

Planning Nutritious Meals Without Too Much Sugar

To limit added sugar, choose whole, minimally processed foods whenever possible.

Examples of nutritious whole-food alternatives, without too much sugar, include:

Protein Foods

Nutritious protein foods to consider include organic, very lean red meat, chicken, turkey, fish, seafood, eggs, seitan, tofu, veggie burgers, and other plant-based meat alternatives.

Protein foods help you feel full after eating fewer calories, enhance your body's metabolism and muscle building, and reduce cravings for sweets.

Healthy Fats

Plant-based fats also boost satiety, reducing cravings for sweets and other high-sugar foods.

Choose avocados, nuts, seeds, nut butter, olive oil, and other plant-based oils.

Fiber-Rich Options

Nutrient-dense, fiber-rich foods to add to healthy menus include fruits, vegetables, beans, other legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.

Using the Perfect Plate method is one of the best ways to avoid too much sugar.

To utilize this method to plan nutritious meals, use the following guidelines:

  • Fill half your plate of food with non-starchy vegetables
  • Fill one-fourth of your plate with protein foods (chicken, fish, seafood, eggs, tofu, etc.)
  • Fill one-fourth of each plate of food with whole grains (quinoa, oatmeal, brown rice, etc.) or starchy vegetables (peas, corn, black beans, lentils, sweet potatoes, etc.)
  • Add a healthy fat, such as olive oil, avocados, or nuts, to each meal
  • Consume about 2 servings of fruit each day
  • Consume 3 servings of dairy foods or calcium-rich plant equivalents daily
  • Use sweets and sugary drinks sparingly

Using the Perfect Plate method can help you meet your body's nutritional needs and avoid too much sugar — especially excessive amounts of added sugar.

Erin Coleman
B.S. - Nutritional Science, R.D., L.D.

Writer, The Fit Mother Project

Erin Coleman is a registered and licensed dietitian with over 15 years of freelance writing experience.

She graduated with her Bachelor of Science degree in nutritional science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and completed her dietetic internship at Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Prior to beginning her career in medical content writing, Erin worked as Health Educator for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Internal Medicine.

Her published work appears on hundreds of health and fitness websites, and she’s currently working on publishing her first book! Erin is a wife, and a Mom to two beautiful children.

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