How Much Sugar is Too Much Sugar?

Sugar intake can be a very confusing subject for many people.  While we see sugar being demonized in the media almost every day, that doesn’t help us answer the question of how much sugar is too much sugar?

And again, the answer will be very different for an adult woman, an adult man or a young child, as well.  Each has very different calorie needs based on their current weight, basal metabolic rate and how active they are.

But if we look at the WHO’s (World Health Organizations) guidelines released in 2015 we can analyze the recommendation and provide some pretty solid examples for the different groups.

Firstly, the WHO recommends that we get no more than 10% of our daily calories from free sugars.  Free sugars are otherwise known as monosaccharides or simple sugars which is sugar in its simplest form.

What this means is the body has very little work to break them down and they often cause a very sharp rise in blood sugar, like taking a hit from the sugar crack pipe as such.

How Much Sugar Should an Adult Man Eat?

While we often see the figure of 8700 kilojoules (2080 calories) on fast-food menus for the daily adult intake, we can look at nutrition Australia to get a better breakdown of requirements.

Man mindlessly adding sugar to a cup of coffee.

For a sedentary male aged 31-50 they recommend 9900 kilojoules or 2366 calories.  This is based on an average male of 180cm tall and 71 kilograms in weight.

Of course, if you weigh more, your BMR will burn through a larger caloric value, the same as if you are more active than a sedentary office worker but we can use the figures nonetheless.

So if we take 10% of 9900 kilojoules or 2366 calories we get a figure of 990 kilojoules or 237 calories.

As there are approximately 3.85 calories per gram of sugar then 237 / 3.85 gives us 61 grams of sugar, with 4.2 grams per teaspoon that’s the equivalent of 15 teaspoons of sugar per day for an adult male.

How Much Sugar Should an Adult Female Eat?

If we follow the same approach as for an adult male, we can see that a sedentary female aged 31-50 has a recommended daily intake of 8000 kilojoules or 1912 calories.

Woman mixing sugar in a bowl with a whisk.

Why the big difference for a female compared to a male?  Firstly because the female is assumed to be smaller than a male counterpart at 170cm tall and 63.6 kilograms in weight.

Secondly, because men tend to have a greater ratio of lean body mass compared to their female counterparts.  Women tend to have a higher proportion of fat cells which have a lower metabolic rate than lean muscle cells.

Keep in mind everyone is different in height and weight.  These are just averages since we can’t run figures for every possible height and weight calculation for the purposes of the article.

So again if we take 10% of 8000 kilojoules or 1912 calories we get a figure of 800 kilojoules or 191 calories.

Using the same calculations as before we can take the 3.85 calories per gram of sugar and divide it into the calories, 191 / 3.85 which gives us 50 grams or 12 teaspoons of sugar per day for an adult female.

How Much Sugar Should a Child Eat?

Last but not least let us look at the figures for a younger child.  For the purpose of this article, we will use an age of 9 for the middle ground of an infant and a young adult.

Child looking through chocolate doughnuts.

The recommended daily intake for a sedentary boy of this age is 6800 kilojoules or 1625 calories and for a girl 6400 kilojoules or 1529.

We will again take the middle ground here and use an average of 6600 kilojoules or 1577 calories.  Remember no two bodies work exactly the same and we all have varying levels of activity so these are just informed calculations.

If we take 10% of the 1577 calories and divide the 3.85 calories per gram of sugar, we get 158 / 3.85 which gives us 41 grams of sugar or 10 teaspoons of sugar per day for a child.

Great, But How Do These Figures Help Me?

The figures are all well and good, but most people have no idea what 15 teaspoons of sugar look like if they aren’t putting in directly into coffee, which is rightly so.

We are humans and we can’t carry around calculators tallying up every time we eat or drink, but we can make it a bit easier for ourselves if we learn how much sugar is in common foods we eat.

Soft-drink and juices will always be the big culprit for simple sugars so if we can learn a few simple figures around these we will already be miles ahead.

If we look at a 375ml can of soft-drink, there are approximately 39.8 grams of sugar in a single can.

If we look above at our various intakes that means a single can, before any other food intake will already take up 97% of a child’s recommended intake, 79% of adult females recommended intake and 65% of an adult male recommended intake.

Two can’s will put every group over the WHO guidelines, as will a single 600ml bottle.  Remember that’s before you even take into account any food eaten.

With such high concentrations of sugar in soft-drink, it’s hard to find a way to drink any of them safely on a regular basis while still maintaining room for a balanced nutritious diet.

Soft-drink and juices will always be the big culprit for simple sugars so if we can learn a few simple figures around these we will already be miles ahead. Click To Tweet

A good way to avoid this is if you must drink soft-drink, try switching to a no-sugar variant.  They may not be healthy but they certainly seem to be the lesser of two evils.

Most juice is also on-par with soft-drink for sugar content.  Remember, just because its made of fruit that doesn’t make it healthy.  Instead, try eating whole fruit which has far more nutrients including fibre.

Moving on to food, most natural whole-foods are very low in simple sugars, with the exception of a few like large quantities of fruit or honey.

Milk also contains simple sugars in the form of galactose but it’s generally not a problem if you’re just adding milk to coffee or breakfast cereal.

Foods high in carbohydrates also have the potential to be high in simple sugars, but remember not all carbs are bad.  Whole-food grains and carbs provide a variety of nutrients and are a welcome staple on a well-balanced diet.

Conclusion

While simple sugars are added to most process food these days, it’s even more reason to eat a variety of whole foods and drink plenty of natural water sugar-free soft-drink if you’re really craving bubbles.

Remember, without lots of activity simple sugars will just cause blood sugar to rise unnecessarily which causes the pancreas to release insulin to prompt cells to store the blood sugar.

Over time, muscles and cells stop responding to this insulin release which is known as insulin resistance and is the catalyst for type 2 diabetes, which is largely preventable in approximately 9 out of 10 cases!

Doctor using a digital glucometer to check a man for diabetes.

Remember to be aware of your sugar intake, keep or work on getting your weight under control, and try and incorporate movements and activity into every day and not only will you be well on your way to preventing type 2 diabetes, but you’ll also be lowering your risk for a host of other conditions as well.

The other thing to remember is calories coming from simple sugars are generally deficient in other vitamins and minerals.

This means the body is not only in an unnatural state working towards preventable disease, but at the same time it’s missing out on other important nutrients that are needed for many bodily functions as well.

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