What are the worst foods for sugar content? Are natural sugars healthy or is sugar in fruit bad for you? Does sugar cause weight gain? Does consuming sugar cause diabetes? Many myths and misconceptions exist surrounding the health effects of sugar. The effects of excess sugar consumption can be detrimental to your long-term health, energy levels and mood. Globally, 1 in 5 deaths are as a result of poor diet. Consequently, many people are trying to reduce sugar intake to avoid health problems caused by sugar. Not only will this article helps you achieve that, it also provides evidence-based answers to the above questions. Also, it includes a high sugar foods list along with some of the best low sugar foods to eat as an alternative. Find out what is the recommended daily allowance of sugar is and what the adverse effects of consuming too much sugar are.

Teaspoon sugar, nutritional facts about sugar, strawberry

Nutritional facts about sugar

What is sugar? Sugar is a naturally-occurring macronutrient present in carbohydrate foods, e.g. fruit, dairy and grains. It acts as a slow-releasing energy source (natural sugars) or fast-releasing energy source (refined sugars) for the body. Sugar is also added to many foods, particularly processed foods, which is known as added sugar. This type of sugar should be reduced in the diet.

Is natural sugar healthy? Consuming foods containing naturally occurring sugars isn’t necessarily unhealthy, unless you’re regularly consuming foods which have a high percentage of sugars present. It is, after all, still sugar! For example, while eating fruit is healthy, consuming too much fruit (especially fruit juices) could be detrimental to your dental health.

What is the recommended daily allowance of sugar? The World Health Organisation (WHO) have published guidelines stating that a person should obtain no more than 10% of their energy intake (in terms of calories) from free sugar. When put into context, if an average adult requires 1500-2000 calories per day, then those adults could stay within the 10% allowance by limiting sugar consumption to 10-14 teaspoons per day. It’s worth bearing in mind that these values are limits as opposed to targets! There are rumours that the WHO are seeking to slash this allowance in half to 5%, which would equate to 5-7 teaspoons of sugar per day.

One teaspoon of sugar equates to 4g sugar or 1 sugar cube.

In contrast to these figures, many experts and countries advocate a much lower sugar intake than the 10% recommended by the WHO. For examples, the UK government enforces the following more conservative approach, equating to 5% of energy coming from sugar:

  • Adults should consume no more than 30g of added sugars per day (approximately 7 teaspoons)
  • Children aged 7 to 10 should consume no more than 24g added sugars per day (6 teaspoons)
  • Children aged 4 to 6 should consume no more than 19g added sugars per day (5 teaspoons)

In the USA, the American Hearth Association recommend the following:

  • Men: no more than 36g of added sugar per day (9 teaspoons)
  • Women: no more than 25g of added sugar per day (6 teaspoons)

If you are wondering what are alternatives to sugar, then check out are artificial sweeteners bad for you? Find out are artificial sweeteners safe and is stevia a healthy sugar subsititute.

Health effects of too much sugar

The effects of consuming too much sugar are widely documented and the role that added sugar contributes to this are not to be underestimated. Many of us know of a loved one or friend who has diabetes, and especially in terms of type 2 diabetes, it’s often one of the side effects of too much sugar and calories.

Weight gain: Several meta-analyses investigating the potential for sugary soft drinks to induce weight gain suggested positive correlations exist between them. A separate meta-analysis observed consumption of soft drinks to be a determinant of obesity. So is sugar really to blame here? Well, 3 recent systematic studies and meta-analyses reviewed set out to determine this. A number of randomised controlled trials investigating the effect of replacing sugar from beverages with other energy-equivalent macronutrients, which exhibited no effect on weight gain. This suggests that weight gain is a result of increased energy consumption (i.e. calories) and not generally sugar, in itself (just bear in mind that sugar is a source of energy/calories). Essentially, what’s being stated here is that it would be difficult to solely attribute sugar to weight gain when an individual is consuming other sources of calories as well. So regardless of where you obtain your calories from, the rule that weight gain equals calories in being greater than calories out will nevertheless apply.

Additional research has also pointed to the fact that weigh-gain and obesity are unlikely to be attributed exclusively to one nutrient. Instead, excess total calorie intake from a range of nutrients is likely to exhibit increased weigh-gain.

Diabetes: Featuring on the top 10 list of causes of deaths worldwide and with figures of people diagnosed expected to increase from 463 million in 2019 to 700 million by 2045 (approximately 50% increase), diabetes is one of the fastest growing diseases worldwide!

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease which occurs as a result of the body mistakenly attacking insulin-producing beta cells in the body. Type 2 diabetes occurs as a result of your body developing an insulin resistance and consequently, sugar builds up in your blood. Factors that can be attributed to developing type 2 diabetes include genetics and also lifestyle factors, for instance, carrying extra weight or obesity.

Surprisingly, limited evidence exists supporting the association between eating too much sugar and diabetes. Numerous reviews of individuals who substituted sucrose or fructose for a controlled diet in both randomised and non-randomised controlled trials have failed to identify adverse effects on risk factors for diabetes, including insulin response or fasting blood insulin. In summary, the study concluded that limited evidence exists that consumption of added sugar in normal forms and typical amounts for a human diet for the duration that randomised controlled trials were conducted didn’t lead to adverse health effects.

Heart disease: You may be wondering can sugar cause heart disease? A 15-year study observing the effects of a high-sugar diet on heart disease found that people whose sugar consumption accounted for 17% – 21% of their daily calorie intake were at a 38% greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. This is in stark contrast to people who only consume 8% of their calories from sugar. While the research regarding how sugar adversely affects health is unverified, there are a number of indirect correlations. For example, the liver metabolises excess sugar into fat, which over an extended time can result in development of excess fat and lead to fatty liver disease. This in turn elevates the potential for diabetes and subsequently heart disease.

Diabetes, does sugar cause diabetes, sugar

High sugar foods list

Foods with high sugar content and foods with hidden sugars are almost omnipresent when you look down the aisles of a supermarket. Below are a list of common offenders when it comes to high added sugar levels:

  1. Low-fat yoghurt
  2. Jam/chutney
  3. Milk
  4. Fruit juice, e.g. orange juice
  5. Sweets, e.g. gummy sweets
  6. Sauces, e.g. ketchup, barbecue sauce
  7. Breakfast cereals
  8. Cereal bars
  9. Soda drinks
  10. Flavoured coffees

It can be difficult to cut out foods, especially ones that you love or find convenient. So instead of cutting them out, try replacing them with the below low sugar foods list! The food swaps are in order to ease the process of navigating the swaps, e.g. 1 = replace low-fat yoghurt with plain greek yoghurt.

Added sugar, high sugar foods list, list foods high sugar, foods rich sugar

No added sugar food list

  1. Plain greek yoghurt
  2. Peanut butter
  3. Coconut/almond/oat milk
  4. Whole fruit, e.g. strawberries, avocado
  5. Popcorn
  6. Home-made sauces/seasonings
  7. Oats
  8. Raw nuts, e.g. almonds, pistachios
  9. Sparkling water
  10. Unflavoured coffees, e.g. americano, coffee with no added syrups/cream/sugar

If you’re curious about other healthy foods swaps, head over to healthy alternatives to junk food – the ultimate cheat sheet for some simple foods swaps on sugar along with fat and salt!

No added sugar list, natural alternatives sugar,

Summary

  • Natural sugars are healthier than refined sugars
  • Discrepancies exist amongst countries and organisations for the recommended daily allowance of added sugar
  • Swapping foods on the high sugar foods list with foods on the no added sugar list is a simply way to reduce sugar intake
  • While not directly linked to sugar consumption, weight gain, diabetes, heart disease and cancer are all potential side effects of consuming too much sugar and calories

Have you a sugar addiction? Do you think you could swap out the high sugar foods list for the no added sugar? Do you think you eat too much sugar? I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments below.

Sources

Basina, M., 2018. Diabetes: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, Prevention, And More. [online] Healthline. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/diabetes#causes [Accessed 18 April 2020].

EU Science Hub – European Commission. 2020. Sugars And Sweeteners – EU Science Hub – European Commission. [online] Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/en/health-knowledge-gateway/promotion-prevention/nutrition/sugars-sweeteners [Accessed 18 April 2020].

Harvard Health, 2019. The Sweet Danger Of Sugar – Harvard Health. [online] Harvard Health. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/the-sweet-danger-of-sugar [Accessed 18 April 2020].

Heart.org. 2020. How Much Sugar Is Too Much?. [online] Available at: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/how-much-sugar-is-too-much [Accessed 18 April 2020]

IDF., 2020. International Diabetes Federation – Facts & Figures. [online] Idf.org. Available at: https://www.idf.org/aboutdiabetes/what-is-diabetes/facts-figures.html [Accessed 18 April 2020].

NHS.UK. 2017. Sugar: The Facts. [online] Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/how-does-sugar-in-our-diet-affect-our-health/ [Accessed 18 April 2020].

Rippe, J. M., & Angelopoulos, T. J. (2015). Sugars and Health Controversies: What Does the Science Say?. Advances in Nutrition, 6(4), 493S–503S. https://doi.org/10.3945/an.114.007195 [Accessed 18 April 2020].

West, H., 2016. 18 Foods And Drinks That Are Surprisingly High In Sugar. [online] Healthline. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/18-surprising-foods-high-in-sugar#section15 [Accessed 18 April 2020].

World Health Organisation, 2020. The Top 10 Causes Of Death. [online] Available at: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/the-top-10-causes-of-death [Accessed 18 April 2020].

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18 Comments

Rajith · 18/04/2020 at 5:36 PM

Hey, Thank you for this article. This is indeed a very valuable topic as there are so many misinformation out there. The high sugar list is very enlightening. Who would have thought Milk and Ketchup? That’s great to know. I would love to a see a post about natural supplements which can be taken to reduce the sugar levels.

    Sharon · 18/04/2020 at 5:53 PM

    Hi Raijith,

    Thank you so much for your kind words. I hope the article was of interest and use to you and you found some nuggets of information to take away!

    This article will certainly provide some insight into alternatives to sugar, many people are moving towards stevia: https://foodsandfit.com/are-artificial-sweeteners-bad-for-you/

    Hope this helps,
    Sharon

C.N. · 18/04/2020 at 6:21 PM

Good afternoon, Sharon! You did a really good job of breaking down the components of sugar, explaining how and where it is found in our favorite foods, and well as debunking some of the most widespread myths about it. I’ll be the first to admit that I do like my Yo-plait and my Mountain Dew, but I must gain self-control. I don’t want to set myself up for problems later on in life. LOL I love popcorn and peanut butter, so it shouldn’t be overly difficult for me to transition to more low-sugar alternatives. Thank you once again for the information! God bless you!

    Sharon · 18/04/2020 at 7:41 PM

    Hi C.N.

    Thank you so much and thanks for sharing your personal experience. At least you have the ammunition now to choose the right foods; of course, don’t forget to keep your comfort foods too!

    If there’s anything I can be of assistance with, don’t hesitate to reach out!

    Best wishes,
    Sharon

Bob · 19/04/2020 at 3:56 PM

Sharon…we’re connecting on this issue. I’ve been actively eliminating sugars wherever possible. Not as easy as some people might think. There’s sugar in EVERYTHING… OK, that’s an exaggeration, but it’s close. As always you’ve done an excellent job of posting references…Thorough!

    Sharon · 20/04/2020 at 5:26 PM

    Hi Bob,

    I’m glad to hear that! You are so right! Since writing the article, I’ve been looking at the ingredients in all my foods and the trend of high sugar/salt and degree of processing is getting worrying!

    Thank you so much as always for your kind words!

    Best wishes,
    Sharon

Vinayak · 19/04/2020 at 4:13 PM

Hi Sharon,

This is such a nice and informative post about Sugars. First thing I liked in this post is information about Natural Sugars. Thinking that natural sugars are healthy, people tend to consume their higher quantities, especially fruit juices.

Another very interesting section is recommended consumption of sugar by various health organizations, as this information help us make a more educated decision about our own sugar intake.

Thanks!

    Sharon · 20/04/2020 at 5:30 PM

    Hello there,

    It’s true, just because it has the word ‘fruit’ in the title, people simply assume it is healthy. While there is some nutritional value to fruit juices, there’s definitely a strong argument to be made for consuming fruit whole instead of as a juice!

    I also found that interesting and I’m glad you did too. Hopefully you’ll take some of this information with you when you choose foods in future!

    Best wishes,
    Sharon

Imelda Easthorpe · 20/04/2020 at 6:37 PM

This is a great article about Sugar and one that is very close to my heart.

There is so much information out there about nutrition but I do not believe that there is enough out there about sugar.

The greatest fact about sugar is that it is a plant full of fibre and water so most definitely natural. However, the added sugar aspect added to processed foods completely strips out the goodness leaving the rubbish that has no nutritional value what so ever. A real shame!

Great article!

    Sharon · 20/04/2020 at 7:50 PM

    Hi there,

    Wow, thank you so much, I really appreciate it!

    Yes that’s definitely the case, between that and a lack of knowledge/awareness, it’s all a formula for a growing epidemic. It really is, all we can do is aim to stick to the natural sources where possible!

    Hopefully you learned a few valuable tips from the article anyway!

    Best wishes,
    Sharon

LaurenceG. · 20/04/2020 at 7:31 PM

Good article, I enjoyed it very much. I have problems with my weigh as I grow older, the information you have provided in this article, I will certainly use it. It sounds like I may be able to control my body weight after all. Thank you.
Now, more about this article, well laid out, the strong contents flow smoothly through out this article. Media goes welll with contents, white back ground on yours pages is easier on your readers eyes, and well written. Very Good Job!

    Sharon · 20/04/2020 at 7:56 PM

    Hi there,

    Thank you so much for your kind words. I hope the article was of interest and use to you. It’s a difficult road trying to manage weight, especially as a person’s metabolism slows down and life gets hectic.

    If there’s anything I can be of assistance with, don’t hesitate to reach out!

    Best wishes,
    Sharon

TeeManyimo · 20/04/2020 at 11:04 PM

Hie Sharon

What an informative article. I like the guidelines on sugar intake and also the categories of foods with high and low sugar levels.
Thanks a lot

    Sharon · 21/04/2020 at 6:18 PM

    Hi there,

    Good to hear, I’m glad you found it valuable and enjoyed it! That is, after all, one of my key goals with these posts.

    Thanks for the feedback.

    Best wishes,
    Sharon

      Christopher · 21/04/2020 at 6:52 PM

      Great source of authoritative studies on sugar intake and relation to disease. The number one diagnosis of type two diabetes is evident. The complications from sugar addiction leading to heart and cardiovasucular disease renders very poor quality of life, especially among seniors. The post and the site, lay this out succintly.

      The studies quoted are a valuable resource for those in the danger zone for disease caused by excess sugar consumption. A denial response and you’ll find yourself in a health morass. On the flip side are those who go overboard, in my opinion (engineer, not doctor) with the health lifestyle like a friend of mine who had developed heart disease in spite of himself. “All things in moderation.”

      The 9 teaspoons of sugar per day recommended in the article for men is more conservative for children. The article explains that is nine sugar cubes per day. That speaks to the Western Diet for a certainty. Goop and Sidie Pop! Interesting also that sugar from natural fruits and vegetables has the same pancreatic effect as plain white sucrose. After all, it comes from sugar cane or beets usually.

      The poisons reducing our lifespans also diminishes the quality of our lives. Thank You. CQ

        Sharon · 21/04/2020 at 8:11 PM

        Hi Christopher,

        You’re very kind, thank you. Also, thank you for sharing such an informative post. The 9 teaspoon recommendation came a shock to me initially. Throughout my life, I had been advised of 6 teaspoons maximum per day. It’s interesting how different regions adopt different limits, when we are all human beings and they affect people more or less regardless of their geographical location!

        It sure does, the devil you don’t know can be the most dangerous!

        Best wishes,
        Sharon

Duni · 23/04/2020 at 3:45 AM

I am so glad you are bringing awareness to this topic. So many people have problems due to too much sugar in their diets. Diabetes is a big problem world wide.

    Sharon · 23/04/2020 at 7:31 PM

    Hi there,

    Thank you so much for your kind words. I hope the article was of interest and use to you and you found some nuggets of information to take away! It’s true, and it’s unfortunate that sugar is present in such high quantities in food, it’s very difficult to buy foods with low sugar.

    If there’s anything I can be of assistance with, don’t hesitate to reach out!

    Best wishes,
    Sharon

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