How Much Sugar is Healthy? How free sugar and drinks harm

How much sugar a day is acceptable if you want to keep fit and healthy? This is the question I am working on quite intensively for healthandthecity.de. Because I noticed a strange contradiction: when I read blogs or look around on Instagram and Pinterest, the world seems full of women who swear by low carb. Or they try to get along without sugar if possible. On the other hand, a new scientific publication presents about the gender-specific risk of diabetesstated: Women in particular have a major problem with keeping their sugar consumption under control. You are prone to frustration – which I unfortunately know personally too…. But apparently women also drink highly sugary drinks more often than men.

With this, they are really making a mistake in their diet. Because no other form of sugar intake has been so well documented that it can make you sick and fat as “drinking sugar” . So for sodas, cola, ready-made iced tea, energy drinks, juice spritzers, juices and smoothies.

The answer to the question of how much sugar is healthy a day has two parts:

  1.  It’s a lot less sugar than most people can imagine. So little that a lot of us actually eat at least twice as much as is recommended every day.
  2. Once you’ve exceeded the recommended level, it seems to matter what kind of sugar you eat – and in what form. The risk of gaining weight or developing diabetes, for example, depends at least in part on the packaging in which the sugar enters the body. Whether through fruits, cakes, yoghurt, ready meals or chips. Sugary drinks play a particularly inglorious role here.

Many women are unaware of their biggest sugar traps

Why don’t so many women know that? Even though she – felt – occupied with her body, her figure and her eating habits all day?

My suspicion: Fruit juices, spritzers and smoothies in particular enjoy a healthy image. After all, there is fruit in there. And sugar from fresh fruits can’t be a bad thing. With a smoothie, a woman means indulging in an extra dose of health. I suspect that is what many women believe. Unfortunately it is not true.

Free sugar is particularly tricky

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the first thing that counts when asked how much sugar is healthy a day is the total amount of so-called free sugar. These are simple sugar molecules that the body does not have to extract from more complex sugar molecules, the so-called polysaccharides, through complex metabolic processes. And that includes:

  • Simple sugar that is added to food and beverages: This is often white table sugar, a combination of glucose and fructose. Or it’s fructose, for example from fortified corn syrup. On the food packaging, however, it is often not written directly on it. The food companies disguise free sugars on the ingredient list by choosing a name that is confusing for consumers. (You can find out more about this in the blog post: Without industrial sugar )
  • Sugar naturally found in honey, syrup, fruit juices, juice concentrates, concentrated juices and smoothies. Often it is fructose, the fruit sugar. Here, too, the food companies work with all their tricks. For example, a well-known orange juice says: no added sugar (see photo) and when you read the asterisk, you learn in a very confused formulation that by law no sugar can be added to a real juice. While you think about it, you almost inevitably forget to look up the really high amounts of sugar in the juice per se (more on this below).

How Much Sugar a Day? Less than 10 percent of the calories

The WHO advises reducing the daily intake of free sugar to less than 10 percent of the total daily calorie intake . One gram of sugar contains 4 kilocalories of energy. A woman needs around 1900 to 2000 kilocalories a day. 10 percent of that is 190 to 200 kilocalories. Accordingly, the following answer to the question of how much (free) sugar is OK per day is obtained: a maximum of 50 grams. This is equivalent to about 10 teaspoons of sugar.

And that means all of the free sugar you consume during the day. So not just the one that you shovel clearly visible into your coffee or baked in a cake. But also the one in sweet particles, chocolate, gummy bears and the well-hidden one that you often have no idea about.

Hide high amounts of sugar – 3 examples

To make the scale clear, here are 3 examples of hidden sugars:

  • 1 serving of ketchup (20 grams) contains 4.5 grams of sugar, almost a teaspoon.
  • 1 cup of fruit yoghurt (200 grams) contains between 25 and 30 grams of sugar, i.e. 5 to 6 teaspoons.
  • 1 serving of “honey mustard” salad dressing (50 ml) has 5.5 grams of sugar, which is a good teaspoonful.

You can see from this: 50 grams is not a lot, because actually with the 3 examples above plus a coffee with sugar you have already had your daily ration without having eaten anything substantial.

To get an even better comparison, I scoured my chocolate stocks. How much sugar is there in chocolate? Depending on the variety, I read 40 to 55 grams of sugar per bar.

The misunderstood sugar bombs: juices and smoothies

And now the sugar in drinks:

  • 1 glass (200 ml) of cola contains 21 grams of sugar, i.e. 4 teaspoons.
  • 1 glass of apple juice has 22 grams of sugar, so 4 teaspoons.
  • 1 glass of orange juice contains 18 grams of sugar, almost 4 teaspoons.
  • 1 glass of smoothie from the supermarket contains between 12 and 24 grams of sugar, depending on the type, i.e. between 2.5 and just under 5 teaspoons.

As you can see: juices and smoothies are just as big sugar bombs as cola! In a glass, we are in the order of magnitude of sugar from half a bar of chocolate . It is also not good that, compared to whole fruit, fruit juices lack the fiber that at least partially compensates for some unfavorable sugar effects.

We eat twice as much sugar as recommended

On average, every German eats around 100 grams of free sugar a day, i.e. twice the WHO ration. Interesting in this context: How does the WHO actually arrive at this amount of 50 grams, or 10 percent of the daily energy of free sugar? This recommendation is based on an evaluation and assessment of the studies that exist worldwide that investigate the question of how much sugar is healthy each day. It was found that those adults who hardly eat free sugar weigh less on average than those who consume a lot of sugar. There is also a relationship with the daily amount of sugar and the frequency of tooth decay.

To be fair, it has to be said that this limit is controversial among scientists. The WHO itself sees good reasons to recommend even less sugar: namely only 25 grams a day for women, i.e. 5 percent of the daily calorie intake. However, other organizations, including the German Nutrition Society (DGE), consider the evidence to be insufficient to further reduce the currently recommended amount of sugar of 50 grams.

The DGE also points out that the evidence that free sugar makes you fat and sick applies most clearly to sugar from beverages. Which brings us back to the beginning: sugary drinks, including juices and smoothies, are the plague.

How the free sugars can make you sick

But why actually? Here you have to differentiate between the free sugars glucose and fructose.

  1. Glucose gets into the cells quickly and directly. Because most of the cells in the organism need this sugar in order to gain energy and to keep the metabolism going. In fact, too little glucose in the blood can lead to life-threatening hypoglycaemia. That is why the body has several emergency processes to prevent hypoglycaemia. The problem, however, is: If glucose arrives in bulk in the digestive tract – for example because you have consumed half a bar of chocolate – the blood sugar level rises very quickly. This in turn causes a high level of insulin to be released, which quickly causes blood sugar to drop again. And this rapid drop makes a lot of people cravings. In other words: glucose is poorly saturated. The desire to eat remains, although the calorie requirement has long been met. How we all know:
  2. Most cells, on the other hand, cannot utilize fructose directly; it has a significantly lower impact on blood sugar. The fructose is processed in the liver. If there is always too much of it in the organism, the entire fat and carbohydrate metabolism gets mixed up. Among other things, fat burning is hindered. At the same time, fructose is converted into fat deposits much faster than glucose. This increases the risk of fatty liver disease, obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. As if that weren’t enough, fructose blocks the feeling of satiety. So you run the risk of consuming more calories than you need.

Sugar saving tip for women

Let’s get back to the total daily amount of free sugar. Obviously, for weight and health, one should reduce the amount of free sugar in one’s diet to the recommended amount. The first step there, which is obviously especially worthwhile for women: Less sugary drinks! Also no seemingly healthy, so no juices, spritzers or smoothies. A complete renunciation of sugar is neither necessary nor sensible. It can even lead to eating disorders, as you can find out in the article ” Why living sugar-free is not for me “.

Exercise can offset sugar risks

Finally, some really good news: People who exercise enough usually have no problems with sugar. For them, it doesn’t really matter in what form they take the sweetness. Your body can easily tolerate the free sugar, glucose and fructose, and in fairly large quantities. The reason: exercise has an extremely positive influence on the sugar metabolism and makes the body cells more sensitive to the effects of insulin.

So there is still an answer to the question: How much sugar a day is healthy? Namely: the more and more regularly you exercise, the more sugar you can treat yourself to. Whether in cake, gummy bears or juice. So have fun doing sports. For example with our tips on how even a non-runner can learn to jog in 10 weeks.