How much Sugar is ok to eat?
by Tenille Sonnichsen, RD
Do you wonder if you are eating “too much” sugar? Do you wonder about the potential side effects of consuming refined sugar? Can we eat unlimited amounts of natural sugar?
Types of sugar
Sugar is more than just the white powder in our coffee and donuts. Sugars include naturally occurring (such as in fruit and milk) and refined sugar (table sugar, cookies and cereals):
-fructose (fruit sugar)
-sucrose (table sugar= glucose + fructose)
-maltose (glucose + glucose)
-lactose (milk sugar= galactose + glucose)
Sugars are part of the carbohydrates group. Of the three main types of carbohydrates, sugar is most quickly digested and absorbed, whereas starch and fibre are more slowly digested and can keep us feeling full longer. Many fruits and vegetables contain sugar, fibre and starch, and provide our bodies with many vitamins and minerals essential to our health, and they taste great, too!
Sugar and health
Sugar itself does not cause us to gain weight, or prevent us from losing extra body fat. But some sweet foods are processed and tasty, and may result in overindulgence and increased calorie intake. Consuming more sugar than your body uses for energy can contribute to storage of extra body fat. Carrying extra body fat may increase your risk of developing inflammation, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, some forms of cancer, and other diseases.
Does this mean we need to cut out sugar altogether?
Not necessarily. Vegetables and fruit provide us with many health-promoting vitamins and minerals, and contain naturally occurring sugars. The sugar in milk and yogurt (lactose) is well tolerated by some people, while others may have a lactose intolerance and can’t consume much or any lactose without getting sick. Some people experience positive health results by cutting out refined sugars, some people do well on a very low total-sugar diet (especially for brain injury and epilepsy), and some people stay healthy with some refined sugars in their diet.
Our genetics, our gut bacteria, and our upbringing can contribute to our preference for sweet, and our body’s ability to handle sugar.
How much sugar is ok?
Health Canada recommends limiting our daily intake of all sugars to a maximum of 100g per day as part of a 2000 calorie diet, which is the average daily calorie intake in Canada (view the guidelines here). This does not mean that 100g per day is the target amount; rather it is the maximum for the average person consuming 2000 calories per day.
100g of sugar may sound like a lot, and for some people this amount may be more than their body can or should handle. For example, if you are consuming 1600 calories per day, then your daily maximum should be 80g of total sugar. Or if you are trying to change your body composition or manage blood sugars, then perhaps a lower amount of total sugars would be appropriate. On the other hand, marathon runners and other athletes who may consume 2500-3000 calories or more per day may actually perform better with more than 100g of sugar per day.
I partnered with the dietitians at The Canadian Sugar Institute for the Sweet Spot Challenge in cooking one day’s worth of meals, providing 2002 calories and 101g of sugar. The following photos are my own pictures of the meals I made for the day (including dessert!). The recipes were provided by chef Claire Tansy and approved by the dietitians of the Canadian Sugar Institute. It was too much food for me, so I reduced the serving sizes for myself by stopping eating when I was full (practicing mindful eating).
An easy way to reduce the sugar for this day would be to exclude the dessert, which contained 30g sugar per serving, bringing down the daily total to 71g. The remaining sugars were: naturally occurring- from fruits and vegetables and plain yogurt; natural added sugars- from apple juice and maple syrup; and refined added sugars- 1 Tbsp of granulated sugar in the bok choy recipe.
Here is what one day's worth of meals look like, including 2002 calories and 101g sugar:
*Instant Bircher Muesli
Prep Time 5 minutes or less
Ready In about 20 minutes
• 3⁄4 cup quick oats
• 3⁄4 cup unsweetened apple juice
• 1⁄8 teaspoon cinnamon or cardamom
• 1⁄8 teaspoon salt
• 1 ripe but crisp pear (such as Bosc or Asian), cubed
• 1⁄4 cup chopped toasted walnuts or almonds
• 2 tablespoons Power Seeds (optional, see below)
1. Stir together the oats, apple juice, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl, then set aside for about 15 minutes.
2. Stir well, then stir in pear and walnuts. Top with Power Seeds (if using).
• 1/4 cup whole flax seeds
• 1/4 cup pepitas
• 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
• 2 tbsp sesame seeds
• 2 tbsp poppy seeds
1. Preheat the oven to 375 F.
2. Combine flax seeds, pepitas, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and poppy seeds on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast, stirring once, 4-8 minutes or until lightly toasted. Let cool on the baking sheet. Transfer to a mason jar and store at room temperature for up to 1 month.
Switch it up: Instead of the nuts (or in addition to—there are no rules), swirl in a big spoonful of almond butter or plain Balkan-style yogurt after the muesli soaks.
Nutrition information per 1 serving (1/2 recipe):
308 Calories – 43 g Carbohydrates – 17 g Total Sugars – 5 g Fibre – 12 g Fat – 8 g Protein – 155 mg Sodium
*Nutrition information does not include optional Power Seeds.
Serve with 100g 0% flavoured Greek yogurt, and add:
80 Calories – 13 g Carbohydrates – 11 g Total Sugars – 0 g Fibre – 0 g Fat – 8 g Protein – 35 mg Sodium
*Secretly Green Smoothie
Prep Time less than 5 minutes
Ready In 5 minutes or less
• 1 ripe banana
• 1 cup frozen raspberries (or your favourite berries)
• 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
• 1⁄2 cup frozen chopped kale stems
• 1 cup cold water or 2% milk
1. Combine banana, berries, yogurt, kale and water in a high-speed blender and purée until smooth. Serve immediately.
Chef’s Tip: I find Greek yogurt too pasty to eat on its own, but it’s perfect here and adds a welcome protein boost. This isn’t an overly sweet smoothie, so use vanilla yogurt if you prefer yours on the sweeter side.
Switch it up: No frozen kale? Add half a ripe avocado instead and increase the water to 1 ½ cups.
Nutrition information per 1 serving (1/2 recipe):
200 Calories – 30 g Carbohydrates – 13 g Total Sugars – 5 g Fibre – 3 g Fat – 15 g Protein – 53 mg Sodium
*Chilled Cucumber and Sesame Noodles with Tofu
Serves 4 • Make ahead
Prep Time 15 minutes
Ready In about 20 minutes
• 9 ounces (250 g) spaghettini or soba noodles
• 5 teaspoons soy sauce
• 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
• 1 tablespoon tahini
• 2 teaspoons pure maple syrup
• 2 teaspoons sesame oil
• 1⁄4 cup cold water
• 1 pound (450 g) firm tofu, cut into sticks
• 1 large seedless cucumber, sliced into thin half-moons
• 1 cup frozen shelled edamame, thawed
• 2 green onions, thinly sliced, for garnish
1. Boil spaghettini in a large pot of salted water until just tender, about 9 minutes or according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water until completely cool. This not only cools the noodles but also prevents them from sticking to each other.
2. Meanwhile, to make the Sesame Dressing, whisk the soy sauce, white wine vinegar, tahini, maple syrup, sesame oil and water in a large bowl. Add the tofu, cucumber, edamame and cooled spaghettini and toss gently but well.
3. Divide among 4 bowls. Garnish with green onions.
Make ahead: The dressing keeps well in the fridge for up to 4 days. The salad keeps well for up to 4 hours in the fridge. Stir well before serving.
Switch it up: Skip the tofu and serve this alongside barbecued chicken or steak.
Nutrition information per 1 serving (1/4 recipe):
494 Calories – 59 g Carbohydrates – 3 g Total Sugars – 5 g Fibre – 16 g Fat – 30 g Protein – 355 mg Sodium
*Sweet-and-Sour Bok Choy
Prep Time 5 minutes
Ready In about 10 minutes
• 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
• 1 tablespoon soy sauce
• 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
• 1⁄2 teaspoon hot chili-garlic sauce (optional)
• 1 teaspoon cornstarch
• 1 pound (450 g) baby bok choy, washed well
• 1/4 cup water
1. Stir the sugar with soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and chili-garlic sauce (if using) in a small bowl until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the cornstarch. Reserve.
2. Place the bok choy in a frying pan that’s wide enough to fit the bulbs all in a single layer. Add the water, cover and bring to a boil. Cook 3 minutes or until the stems are tender-crisp when poked with a sharp knife. Take off the lid and cook, shaking the pan a few times, until the pan is dry, about 1 minute.
3. Stir the soy sauce mixture and add it to the pan. Cook, stirring constantly, 10 to 30 seconds or until the sauce thickens and coats the bok choy. Serve immediately.
Nutrition information per 1 serving (1/4 recipe):
32 Calories – 7 g Carbohydrates – 4 g Total Sugars – 1 g Fibre – 0 g Fat – 2 g Protein – 240 mg Sodium
Snack: 1/4 cup each blueberries and raspberries, and 10 cherries
(I only had blueberries and strawberries, so the sugar count was slightly less without the cherries.)
91 Calories – 23 g Carbohydrates – 16 g Total Sugars – 5 g Fibre – 1 g Fat – 2 g Protein – 1 mg Sodium
*Coconut Chicken Curry
Serves 4 to 6 • Make ahead
Prep Time 20 minutes
Ready In about 50 minutes
• 2 tablespoons canola oil
• 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
• 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
• 3 cloves garlic, chopped
• 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
• 3 tablespoons Indian curry paste
• 1⁄4 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
• 1⁄8 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1 1⁄2 pounds (675 g) boneless, skinless chicken, cut into 2-inch cubes (about 6 thighs or 3 breasts)
• 1 can (14 ounces/398 mL) chopped tomatoes
• 1 can (14 ounces/400 mL) full-fat coconut milk
• 1 1⁄2 cups frozen peas
• Chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish
1. Heat the canola oil in a large non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes or until the onion softens and just starts to get golden. Stir in the garlic and ginger and cook 1 minute.
2. Stir in the curry paste, cayenne (if using) and cinnamon, then add chicken and stir to coat. Cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, then stir in the tomatoes. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook 5 minutes. 3. Stir in the coconut milk. When the curry starts to simmer again, stir in peas and cook another 3 to 5 minutes or until everything is hot. Serve garnished with cilantro.
Chef’s Tip: I much prefer full-fat coconut milk over light. It brings so much more flavour and a luscious texture to the dish. Sometimes the fat will separate away from the liquid in the can—don’t worry, just add the can’s contents to the curry and stir it in (or give the can a good shake before you open it).
Make ahead: This curry keeps well in the fridge for up to 2 days.
Today, we’ve paired this dish with 1 cup steamed broccoli for some added seasonal greens.
Nutrition information per 1 serving (1/6 recipe):
367 Calories – 13 g Carbohydrates – 5 g Total Sugars – 3 g Fibre – 21 g Fat – 30 g Protein – 450 mg Sodium
Makes one 10-inch galette
Serves 8 • Make ahead
Prep Time 15 minutes if pastry is made
Ready In about 2 hours
Plums were unavailable so I used peaches in my galette. You can substitute any fruit you like!
• 1 batch Forgiving Food Processor Pastry (see below)
• 8 to 10 red plums
• 1⁄2 cup (105 g) granulated sugar
• 1 tablespoon cornstarch
• 1 teaspoon almond extract
Forgiving Food Processor Pastry
1 1/2 cups (225 g) all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup (115 g) cream cheese, cold and cubed
1/2 cup (115 g) butter, cold and cubed
1. Combine flour and salt in the food processor. Pulse to combine.
2. Add cream cheese and butter, and pulse for 30 seconds to 1 minute or until dough comes together in a loose ball.
3. Shape the dough into a flat disc about 1 inch thick. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill at least 30 minutes before using.
4. To use the pastry, leave it at room temperature until it’s pliable enough to roll. Depending on the weather this can take 30 minutes (summer) or 3 hours (winter). If frozen, thaw it in the fridge first, then leave on the counter until pliable.
1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured counter, using a lightly floured rolling pin, into a 14-inch circle. Loosen the pastry from the counter by gently sliding a thin metal spatula underneath it, then transfer to the prepared baking sheet.
3. Pit the plums and slice each one into 6 to 8 wedges. You should have about 8 cups. Whisk the sugar and corn starch together in a large bowl, then add the plums. Drizzle with almond extract, then stir everything together. It will be a bit messy and clumpy, but don’t worry.
4. Pile this mixture into the middle of the pastry and smooth it out, leaving a 2-inch border. Fold the pastry border up over the filling, pleating as necessary.
5. Bake 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350°F and bake another 20 to 25 minutes or until the crust is golden and the filling is very bubbly. Let stand at least 1 hour before serving.
Chef’s Tip: For a golden top edge, brush the folded-over pastry with a little water or cream, then sprinkle it with coarse or granulated sugar before baking.
Make ahead: The pastry can be made well in advance and the pie can be baked and kept at room temperature for up to 12 hours.
Nutrition information per 1 slice (1/8 recipe):
372 Calories – 51 g Carbohydrates – 30 g Total Sugars – 3 g Fibre – 17 g Fat – 5 g Protein – 180 mg Sodium
*Excerpted from Uncomplicated: Taking the stress out of home cooking by Claire Tansey. Copyright © 2018 by Claire Tansey. Published by Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.
Here is another example of a day’s worth of meals that are approximately 2000 calories and 100g sugar:
Do you need help determining how much sugar you should be aiming for in a day, and how you can make that target a reality?
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Yours in health,