Sugar: A staple or treat?

Sugar: A staple or treat?

Sugar: A food staple or tasty treat?

Just how much do American adults love sugar?

Well, on average, American adults consume an average of 17 teaspoons of added sugar per day equating to nearly 60 pounds of added sugar annually. That’s well above the American Heart Association’s recommended sugar intake of just 36 grams per day for men and 25 grams per day for women. The increasing amount of sugar intake has been related to many negative health consequences.

What is Sugar?

Sugar is technically defined as all sweet carbohydrates. However, the term is most often used to describe sucrose or common table sugar.

Sucrose is naturally occurring in fruits, vegetables and nuts and is also produced commercially from sugar cane and sugar beets. Sucrase, the digestive enzyme found in the small intestine, catalyzes the hydrolysis of sucrose to the monosaccharide subunits of fructose and glucose. Glucose is used by cells for ATP (energy) production via glycolysis. Fructose is metabolized in the liver directly into fat, promoting insulin resistance, dyslipidemia, and fatty liver. The health effects of fructose are similar to alcohol due to metabolic similarities.

Tooth Decay

Dental caries, commonly known as tooth decay, is the most common noncommunicable disease worldwide. The prevalence of dental caries is 23 percent in children 2 to 5 years old, 52 percent in children 6 to 8 years old, 57 percent in adolescents 12 to 19 years old, and 90 percent in adults. Severe dental caries is a frequent cause of school or work absenteeism and is an expensive disease to treat, consuming 5–10% of healthcare budgets in industrialized countries. Caries results from oral bacteria converting sugar into lactic acid which weakens tooth enamel and can lead to cavities.

Tooth decay can be prevented with proper oral hygiene, including regular brushing with a fluoride toothpaste and avoiding sugar in your diet.


Obesity prevalence in the USA is 42 percent for adults and 20 percent for children with an approximated health-care cost of associated disease ranging from $150–$220 billion a year.

Low-fat diet trends have replaced fat with sugar and sugar has been credited as the top contributor to increased obesity rates. Sugar has been labeled the number one reason why obesity rates have increased and obesity has been linked to periodontitis as well as numerous chronic diseases and inflammation. Obesity is a risk factor for type 2 Diabetes. Overconsumption of sugar can spike insulin levels and drive insulin resistance and the risk for diabetes grows approximately 1.1 percent for every 150 calories of sugar consumed in one day.

Hidden Sugar

More than half of sugars consumed are in ultra-processed foods. Manufacturers add sugar to 74 percent of packaged foods. There are now more than 60 different names for sugar. Despite attempts at clearer food labeling, sugar hidden in processed foods are difficult to identify, even in foods considered healthy like protein bars, energy drinks, “healthy” cereals, juices, and yogurts. To identify added sugars, look at the ingredients list. A clue that an ingredient is an added sugar would be syrup (examples: corn syrup, rice syrup), any word ending in “ose” (examples: fructose, sucrose, maltose, dextrose), “sugar” in the name (examples: raw sugar, cane sugar, brown sugar, confectionary sugar). Other examples of added sugar include fruit nectars, concentrates of juices, honey, agave and molasses.


Americans 2 years and older should keep added sugars intake to less than 10 percent of their total daily calories. For example, in a 2,000 calorie diet, no more than 200 calories should come from added sugars (about 12 teaspoons).

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends no more than 9 teaspoons (38 grams) of added sugar per day for men, and six teaspoons (25 grams) per day for women. The AHA limits for children vary depending on their age and caloric needs, but range from three to six teaspoons (12 - 25 grams) per day. There are 16 calories in a teaspoon (4 grams) of sugar. Keep this tip in mind when reading nutrition labels to better visualize the amount of added sugar in the product.

One 12-ounce can of cola contains almost 10 teaspoons of sugar! The body does not need carbohydrates from added sugars to function. A good rule of thumb is to avoid products that have a lot of added sugar and avoid foods that list “sugar” as the first or second ingredient.

Like all things, the key is moderation. Regard sugar as a treat, not a staple.


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