Do You Really Have to Swear off Sugar?

Marygrace Taylor

Published on September 8th, 2016

When you were a kid, your mom used to tell you that eating too much sugar would rot your teeth. But now, you know that’s just the beginning when it comes to the ways the sweet stuff is bad for your health.

From obesity, to high cholesterol, to type 2 diabetes, it’s no secret that eating too much sugar is bad news for your body. And most of us are overdoing it: The average American consumes a whopping 20 teaspoons (or 80 g) of sugar each day, says the American Heart Association. That’s equivalent to the amount found in six chocolate frosted donuts.

When you look at the numbers, eating less sweet stuff seems like the obvious move. Still, that doesn’t mean you have to live a completely sugarless existence. Here’s how to strike a healthy balance.

How much sugar is actually okay? Health experts agree that we need to limit our consumption of added sugars—or the sugars that are added to foods to make them sweeter, like the sugar found in packaged foods or baked foods. (There’s no need to limit natural sugars, like the sugars found in fresh fruit or plain yogurt.) The good news? Most also say that added sugar is fine in moderation.

So how much is too much? According to the American Heart Association, women should eat less than 6 teaspoons of added sugar (or 24 g) per day, while men should stay below 9 teaspoons (or 36 g). Yes, it’s significantly less than what most of us are used to. But it still leaves room for enjoying the occasional sweet treat.

Smart steps for cutting back

Trying to eat less sugar can feel a little overwhelming at first. After all, added sugar shows up in everything from cereal to bread to tomato sauce—and that’s not even counting dessert. If you want to cut back, these tips can help you get started.

Make water your go-to drink. Soda, sweetened tea or coffee drinks, and juices are all top sources of added sugar. Swap them for plain old H20 or unsweetened coffee or tea and you’ll slash a good amount of the sweet stuff from your diet.

Pick the plain option. Flavored versions of things like yogurt and oatmeal tend to be loaded with added sweeteners. Buy plain, unsweetened varieties and add fresh fruit for sweetness instead. If you can’t go fully unsweetened, stir in a teaspoon of honey or maple syrup—it’s still less sugar than what’s in pre-sweetened varieties.

Read ingredient labels. Buying a packaged food? Always read the nutrition facts for the number of grams of sugar per serving, and scan the ingredients list for sugar or other sweeteners (like evaporated cane juice or high fructose corn syrup). If they’re one of the first ingredients, that’s a sign that a food is high in sugar.