How Much Added Sugar Are You Consuming? (And Why You Should Care)

Worlds Biggest Sugar Eaters_By The Health Sciences Academy_Where people eat the most sugar

by Alejandra "Alex" Ruani — Get free science updates here.
daily sugar

Photo Credit: pixabay

If you had to take a wild guess at how much your daily sugar intake is, what would you say?

Would you think 10 teaspoons might be a lot?

Think three times that.

  • Americans average 156 pounds (71 kilos) of sugar per year.
  • The average Briton ingests 150 pounds (68 kilos) of sugar every year.
  • Australians win that sugar round leveling out at 116 pounds (53 kilos) a year.

Those figures average to 2.7 pounds (1.2 kilos) a week – about 30 teaspoons of sugar a day!

The shame of sugar is that most people are eating much more than they actually believe.

Some professionals, like Simon Capewell, Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at the University of Liverpool, are even saying that “sugar is the new tobacco” because of its addictive qualities that seem to be leading us into a health disaster.

Since 1990, consumption of sugar in Britain has increased by 31%. And, according to Euromonitor, now we eat 93.2 grams per person a day – nearly four times the recommended limit!

Worlds Biggest Sugar Eaters_By The Health Sciences Academy_Where people eat the most sugar

It is no surprise that health scientists, and even the UK’s Chief Medical Officer, have been lobbying to tax sugar in processed foods.

Before we start colouring outside the sugar lines, let’s get back to you and why you really should care about your daily sugar intake.

Sorting out the sugars

Whether it is for yourself or for your client, one of the first things we need to get clear on is the difference between existing, or natural, sugars versus added sugars.

Naturally occurring sugars are those found naturally in foods such as fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose). They exist within the food or drink.

The added sugars are the ones you need to care about.

The most common added sugars are regular table sugar and high fructose corn syrup.

Sugar of this sort is so popular that it goes by at least 65 names!

Click HERE to get the PDF with the full list.

Because we don’t truly realise just how much sugar we are consuming, it is a good idea to familiarise yourself with those names so you’re able to recognise a bad actor when you read a food or drink label!

The American Heart Association makes it very clear that added sugars contribute zero nutrients, but add calories that can lead to extra pounds or even obesity, thereby reducing heart health.

How much sugar is too much sugar?

In 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued some guidelines calling for a reduction of daily sugar intake with the objective to decrease the amount of added sugar.

Their advice is to limit added sugars to 5% of your total daily calories, which is equal to 6 teaspoons (25 grams) for an adult of normal body mass index (BMI).

Similarly, the UK’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition recommends that “free sugars” should be no more than 5% of your diet.

“Free sugars” are sugars that have been added to food as well as those naturally present in honey, syrup, and unsweetened fruit juices (those high-sugar foods that your body absorbs faster). The sugar found in milk and dairy foods (called “lactose”) is not considered a “free sugar”.

All things considered, it certainly can be a challenge to know just how much sugar is ‘hidden’ in the food you eat.

Where are the sneaky sugars?

Here are 5 favoured, inconspicuous offenders that contain high sugar:

  1. soft drinks or sugar-sweetened beverages
  2. cereal
  3. pasta sauces
  4. fruit yoghurt
  5. energy drinks

Sure, there are many more, but that will get you started with some popular items.

Here’s a simple formula to keep in mind when reading labels.

4 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon of sugar

Stay alert and aware with that quick math when you read your food labels.

What does an excess of daily sugar do to your body?

One thing you can be sure of – nothing good.

It doesn’t help that the UK tops the European league table in sales of sweets, cakes, and biscuits.

Besides sugar being called “the new tobacco” and considered an addictive drug, we all know how habit forming it can be. Because it has a heroin-like effect that lights up the pleasure centers in your brain, you might think of it like a broken traffic light, flashing all 3 colours at once.

Why?

Because your pleasure centres have now been taken over, overriding your hunger signals. Talk about hijacking your brain!

It has been shown that sugars are the only cause of tooth decay in children and adults. Tooth decay is the most common non-communicable disease in the world, affecting 60-90% of school-age children and the vast majority of adults.

High sugar intake contributes to an array of severe health conditions like coronary heart diseases, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.

There are also studies that confirm a strong link between consuming a lot sugar and the suppression of the body’s immune system.

It also plays a key role in the development of many types of cancer as well as obesity and hypertension.

Don’t let sugar run nor ruin your life

Sugar is everywhere.

We can’t let sugar run our life nor ruin our health. You can break the sugar habit beginning right now: here’s the first most important steps.

Armed with what you now know, you can begin with awareness, especially when it comes to reading nutritional labels. Watch out for those sneaky, hidden, added sugars. They will pull you down as fast as you can eat those Fruit Loops and down that Monster drink.

For the sake of your health, well-being, and energy sustainability steer clear of all that excess sugar.

One of the simplest ways to banish sugary foods in your house is to not buy them. When you’re at the supermarket fight that junk food by getting into the habit of reading labels as you load up your trolley.

What about you? How much added sugar are you consuming? If you have tallied it up, are you surprised? Let us know in the comments below. Please share this with someone who could benefit from the sweet information above!


Every other Thursday we share our research and actionable advice to help you and those you care about. If you enjoyed this, join our FREE updates.

44 Comments

  • Thomas

    Reply Reply October 30, 2014

    This doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. The amount of sugar in everything is becoming alarming. People are seriously addicted. In Australlia, low fat products are 9 out of 10 times pumped with sugar!

    • Alex

      Reply Reply October 30, 2014

      Thanks for sharing, Thomas :-)

  • sharon abel

    Reply Reply October 30, 2014

    Sadly sugar is in almost everything now, its as though the food manufacturers want to create an addiction. Bread, even wholewheat, sliced meat,coleslaw! As a first step I encourage clients to ditch cereal in the morning, anything with eggs breaks the cycle and keeps you fuller longer and a simple drink of milk after your evening meal reduces the craving for a sweet. If you are someone who likes to dunk a biscuit in tea or coffee try oatcakes, they dont have sugar and help to break that habit too. Personally I have lost a stone and a half just by ditching sugar and best of all the constant need to eat that sugar creates is gone forever. Keep up the good work!

    • Alex

      Reply Reply October 30, 2014

      Sharon, 1 and 1/2 stone, that’s amazing!

  • kelly

    Reply Reply October 30, 2014

    Hi

    I am really enjoying your weekly newsletters. They are so interesting and packed with information that really makes sense and is easy to understand. I am currently looking after my 8 week old second child a beautiful little girl however I am very sleep deprived and can relate going for the high sugar foods. I have always struggled with consuming high sugar foods but this is really interesting to find out how addictive sugar is. Will definitely be trying to lifestyle changes to better my health and look at every food label. I am seriously considering doing your weightloss course.

    • Alex

      Reply Reply October 30, 2014

      Kelly, I love to hear that you’re enjoying our emails and about your baby girl :-) It’s interesting that you recognise the sleep-debt factor, actually many studies show what you’ve just said!

  • Amy Knight

    Reply Reply October 30, 2014

    In a strange way I feel I am blessed because I’m very intolerant to these “added sugars”. I know a little about the dangers of unnaturally occurring sugars and try to enlighten those around me. But now, I feel better prepared with this information. It is amazing how many sneaky names there are for this one dangerous ingredient. I found this very useful, thank you. Amy Knight

    • Alex

      Reply Reply October 30, 2014

      You’re so welcome, Amy, glad we could help :-)

  • Claudia

    Reply Reply October 30, 2014

    This is a really interesting article, one I will be sure to pass on to many of my friends and family members who tend to roll their eyes at me whenever I refuse anything sweet. I used to be really addicted to sugar. In my mission to cut down on sugar over the past years, I now only have plain porridge with milk and fruit for breakfast and I tend to make everything from scratch, including bread. I finally got the hang of making large quantities and then freezing a lot, so I have portion sized meals ready and don’t spend too much time in the kitchen. This allows me to get the benefits of home cooked meals and knowing exactly what is in my food, making sure there is no hidden corn syrup. I don’t grave sugar at all anymore.

    • Alex

      Reply Reply October 30, 2014

      Claudia – congrats on breaking the sugar habit!!! I think you’re a wonderful example to those around you :-)

  • Ruth

    Reply Reply October 30, 2014

    •Americans average 156 pounds (71 kilos) of sugar per year.
    •The average Briton ingests 150 pounds (68 kilos) of sugar every year.
    •Australians win that sugar round leveling out at 116 pounds (53 kilos) a year.

    is it that Australians are consuming less than everyone else?

    enjoying the course

    • Alex

      Reply Reply October 30, 2014

      Ruth – exactly, Australians ‘win’ in a positive sense, with the lowest intake of all 3. Lovely to hear you’re enjoying your time with us :-)

  • Donna T

    Reply Reply October 30, 2014

    I have given up sugar for 4 days now, I normally snack a lot throughout the day, but now no snacking, no cravings, And more energy, I am awake in the evening when I’m normally falling asleep (early) but the main thing that relates to this article is that my teeth feel clean all day long, I usually brush them as soon as I get in from work but they still feel fresh smooth all day/evening long. The best thing is I don’t even want it, the confectionary aIsle makes me feel ill!

    • Alex

      Reply Reply October 30, 2014

      Wonderful, Donna, 4 days!! Keep going, I’ll be cheering you on :-)

  • Sruj S

    Reply Reply October 30, 2014

    I have been cutting back on sugar consumption for a few months now after being told my Sugar levels are too high and with diabetes running in the family this is a concern. I have focused on cutting out refined sugars but should I also be cutting back on natural sugar intake like Fruit?

    • Alex

      Reply Reply October 30, 2014

      Sruj, well done on cutting back! It’s the added sugars that we should primarily worry about. Fruits are a good way to get disease-fighting antioxidants and phytochemicals in your system. Indiscriminately eliminating fruits isn’t always wise… it really depends on the individual, their current state of health, overall diet, activity levels, digestive issues, health goals, etc. For example, if the goal is fat loss or blood sugar regulation, opt for low glycaemic fruits like plums, grapefruit, apples, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, pears, grapes, kiwi, peaches

      • Sruj S

        Reply Reply October 31, 2014

        Thank you for the feedback Alex. I had never though about fruits in that way.

  • Maria Renoos

    Reply Reply October 30, 2014

    I have not used sugar in years. To sweeten my coffee I use Stevia. And I seldom eat pasta, potatoes, or starchy foods that convert into sugar. I seldom eat out, therefore I have complete control of what I prepare at home.
    Once in a while I do have a glass of wine.

  • Susan, nutrition coach

    Reply Reply October 31, 2014

    This is a really great article and deserves lots of shares. The ‘free sugars’ i.e. those frond in processed foods are really hard to monitor. One simple solution is as you have said divide by four the sugar in grams on the label, because teaspoons are easier to visualise than grams. But that means you have to read the label in the first place. Manufacturers will be helping us with this by the end of the year when (in the UK at least) all labels must be on the front of the packets and use an easily understood traffic light system of red (avoid), amber (eat in moderation) and green (go for it!)

    • Ani

      Reply Reply July 29, 2016

      Sadly I suspect the green will include things like soya, grains, artificial sweeteners, margarines etc. and the red will include raw honey, butter, coconut oil, bananas etc.

      Just my take on what is healthy and what isn’t but I guess we all have different ideas on that.

  • Tom Gibson

    Reply Reply November 1, 2014

    Thanks guy’s for such a comprehensive explanation on how bad sugar really is. We need to get the message out there as soon and as quickly as possible. It is probably the main cause of health problems in the western world over the last 20 years. Why governments world wide are not doing more about it and educating young and old people at schools and on TV is beyond me. I suppose a lot of big company’s, generating big $$$ are involved in the web of Sugar and it’s problems!

  • Andrew Burridge

    Reply Reply November 9, 2014

    Shocking!! So many different sugars what an eye opener

  • Kazan Pierre

    Reply Reply November 13, 2014

    Unfortunately(or fortunately) I am one of those persons with a below average BMI, and whose diet consists of 90% sugar. I know I should eat healthier but I am actually afraid of losing weight. Any tips for gaining healthy weight for us few who are actually too small but fear that we have to sacrifice healthy eating in exchange for not having to shop in the kiddies section? PS encouraged by mom to take this course. We are exact opposites in terms of our weight struggles. (i got it from my dad :D)

    • susan, nutrition coach

      Reply Reply January 6, 2015

      Hi Kazan
      I’m a nutrition coach and I deliver a healthy eating workshop at a local cancer charity so i’m familiar with people who for whatever reason are underweight or who struggle t gain weight

      My advice is to limit your sugar as high sugar diet can potentially lead to diabetes, heart disease etc.
      to get the calories I’d go for protein and food that are higher in the good fats.
      so eggs, nuts/seeds, beans, avocado, full fay dairy, cheese, free range chicken, oily fish like mackerel, sardines, salmon
      in a few weeks time I’ll be doing a piece about increasing your weight . I’ll try and remember to let you know
      Cheers
      Susan

  • Jen

    Reply Reply November 18, 2014

    I’m not completely shocked at all the different names for sugar, but I didn’t think that honey was a good sugar with some nutritional value. I’m a professed sweetaholic and it will be challenging for me to stop the sweets during the week while at work. I have done it before and therefore, I am pretty sure I can go artificial sugar free. Thanks for the valuable information, I will pass it on.

  • Bonnie

    Reply Reply January 5, 2015

    I don’t consume much added sugar. However, I do consume 1-2 caffeinated diet sodas each day and add sugar-free sweetener to my 3-4 cups of coffee. I’ve heard that consuming artificial sweeteners may be as bad as the real sugar. Can someone please respond to this issue?

    • Maria, Research Analyst (The Health Sciences Academy)

      Reply Reply January 5, 2015

      Hi Bonnie – thanks for sharing and great topic idea for a future article, which I’ll discuss with the team. Best wishes, Maria

  • Susan Ponting

    Reply Reply January 12, 2015

    Useful advice for all.I too consume quite a bit of artificial sweeteners in hot drinks on cereal etc is it okay?

  • Allie

    Reply Reply February 14, 2015

    I drink coffee everyday, sometimes twice a day. I never use sugar to sweeten it, I use stevia instead. What are your thoughts on this? I am under the impression that it is a natural sweetener that does not affect blood sugar in a negative way. I did not see it mentioned here so I’m hoping it is a good sugar alternative!! Fingers crossed!

    • Maria, Research Analyst (The Health Sciences Academy)

      Reply Reply February 14, 2015

      Hi Allie! We’ll talk about artificial sweeteners soon, make sure to stay in the loop here: https://thehealthsciencesacademy.org/free-newsletter/ Thanks! Maria (Research Analyst)

      • Allie

        Reply Reply February 14, 2015

        I don’t think stevia is an artificial sweetener though?

        • Maria, Research Analyst (The Health Sciences Academy)

          Reply Reply February 14, 2015

          Allie – the terminology used for sugar substitutes can be confusing, some manufacturers call their sweeteners ‘natural’ even though they’re processed, like in the case of stevia preparations (artificially isolated extracts mixed with other ingredients). We’ll cover this topic in a future report so keep your eyes peeled for that. Thanks! Maria (Research Analyst)

  • priscila

    Reply Reply February 23, 2015

    I have found my mental sharpness to be much higher when I cut sugar out of my diet, and hardly ever get ill, even with the common cold. Sugar definitely not a pro for health.

  • Ali

    Reply Reply March 7, 2015

    Very Interesting reading. I also look forward to reading some useful ways of adding weight healthily. thank you Susan for your comments regarding this issue. Ali

  • Melanie

    Reply Reply March 31, 2015

    Hello,

    I scored 11 on the Weight Gain Questionnaire, but was I was suprised that this put me in the high weight gain category. As I do try to be as conscious as possible regarding the food I eat.
    After working in a health food selling dried fruits and nuts, I am aware of the differences in healthy and non healthy sugars. I think this is something people do not know enough about and I look forward to finding out more about how to help people reduce their weight naturally and with a controlled intake of natural, good foods.

    Melanie

  • Kymberly

    Reply Reply April 23, 2015

    In your list of names of sugars you had “Honey”… isn’t that a natural sugar as well? I thought honey was good for you.

    • melanie

      Reply Reply May 5, 2015

      Hi Kymberly,

      My understanding is that honey, yes is good for you and yes is a natural sugar.
      I have not re-read thus article fully but it relates more to unnatural sugars found in fizzy drinks, chocolate bars, cereals.
      Although honey is a great food, it is a high dose of natural sugar, and diabetics must remain cautious, or intact use honey for its benefits in different ways.
      Local honey is good for hayfever and pollen allergies. Whereas manuka honey has a wider variety medicinal uses.

      I hope I helped a little here.

      Mel

      • Georgina

        Reply Reply August 31, 2015

        Natural sugars are better than added sugars – so if that is the case can we eat more of the natural sugar foods to replace the added sugar foods? I understand what Mel commented (may 5th 2015 post) and as with any individual the quantity of the sugar consumed is the vital choice for better health. Added sugar foods are addictive and they have been designed to ‘get us hooked’, manufacturers invest a lot of money in getting the ‘best’ taste before selling. A lot of the processed foods, cakes, sweets etc are cheap too, making them easier to access and help develop peoples reliability in them. (Fruit and vegetables are less appealing especially when they are more expensive and not ready to eat!) Thank you for the list of different names of sugars that will come in most handy, even with the dairy, wheat/gluten free convenience foods.

        • Ani

          Reply Reply July 29, 2016

          I agree with the unripe fruit Georgina. I remember going to meetings and there would be a beautiful bowl of unripe fruit, bananas being the key one and then plates of lovely looking unhealthy sandwiches which I always went for as there was such an array and they were easy to eat :(

  • Lea

    Reply Reply June 8, 2015

    I started cutting out refined sugars and grains about 10 years ago, but it always seems to sneak in somewhere in commercial food. Through avoidance of sugar I really began an overall reassessment of how I eat. I don’t regret it! I went into remission of type 2 diabetes in 2012. If I sweeten something I either use honey in careful moderation, or try to add something naturally sweet to a recipe – such as a date in a raw sauce, etc (a date vitamixed into 3 cups of unsweetened almond milk will create a very nice creamer/sweetener to coffee). Very informative, thank you!

  • Varun Gupta

    Reply Reply January 21, 2016

    Hi Varun,
    My understanding is that honey, yes is good for you and yes is a natural sugar. I have -read thus article fully but it relates more to unnatural sugars found in fizzy drinks, chocolate bars, cereals. Although honey is a great food, it is a high dose of natural sugar, and diabetics must remain cautious, or intact use honey for its benefits in different ways. Local honey is good for hayfever and pollen allergies. Whereas manuka honey has a wider variety medicinal uses. I hope I helped a little here.

  • Varun Gupta

    Reply Reply January 21, 2016

    Hi varun,
    Australians win that sugar round leveling out at 116 pounds (53 kilos) a year

  • Amira

    Reply Reply March 23, 2016

    Hi
    I think I consume about 4 teaspoon added sugars every day. Sugar is nearly added in every manufactured snack. My real worry is about my children and the snacks they insist to buy.

  • Maithili Deshpande

    Reply Reply May 10, 2016

    Really It’s so true about sugar. Actually we all know about sugar but its very difficult to rid of sugar. sugar is like sweet poison.

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