Wednesday, June 26, 2013

How much sugar is too much???

Nurse Jen is taking the summer off to spend quality time with her lovely daughters.
She is keeping her brain active by doing some writing for the blog on some interesting topics.
 Here is Jen's  first contribution.

Summer is officially here and many of us are planning out of town visits with friends and family. Ice cream at the pool, cookies and juice at a doting grandparent's house and a general lapse in regular healthy eating routines all spell out an increase in SUGAR INTAKE. While the occasional sweet is nothing to get worked up about (in fact, eliminating altogether will probably only make your child want sweets more) a lot of media attention has been paid to sugar lately. Although there are a lot of conflicting opinions about sugar out there, below you will find my summary of today's 'sugar buzz.'

If you're short on time,  I start by listing the current recommended levels of how much sugar kids can consume. If you're inspired to read more, read on (additional reading suggestions are listed below.)

So what do we know NOW about how much kids can consume?
Preschoolers with a daily caloric intake of 1,200 to 1,400 calories shouldn't consume more than about 4 teaspoons (or 16 grams) of ADDED sugar a day. Children ages 4-8 with a daily caloric intake of 1,600 calories should consume no more than about 3 teaspoons of ADDED sugar a day (approximately 12 grams.) In order to accommodate all the nutritional requirements for this age group, there are just fewer calories available for discretionary allowances like sugar. (

As your child grows into his pre-teen and teen years, and his caloric range increases to 1,800 to 2,000 a day, the maximum amount of added sugar included in his daily diet should be 5 to 8 teaspoons (approximately 20-32 grams). (

Keep in mind when you're reading labels, four grams of sugar equals one teaspoon of granulated sugar.

What are Added Sugars?
Added sugars are sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages during processing or preparation. They do not include naturally occurring sugars such as those found in milk (lactose) and fruits (fructose). Added sugars (or added sweeteners) include natural sugars (such as white sugar, brown sugar and honey) as well as other caloric sweeteners that are chemically manufactured (such as high fructose corn syrup.) (American Heart Association, 2013).

How can I tell by looking at a Nutrition Facts panel if a product has added sugars?
Unfortunately, current nutrition labels don’t list the amount of added sugars (alone) in a product. The line for “sugars” you see on a nutrition label includes both added and naturally occurring sugars in the product. Naturally occurring sugars are found in milk (lactose) and fruit (fructose). Any product that contains milk (such as yogurt, milk, cream) or fruit (fresh, dried) contains some natural sugars. (AHA, 2013)

But you can read the ingredient list on a processed food’s label to tell if the product contains added sugars. Names for added sugars on labels include:
Brown sugar
Corn sweetener
Corn syrup
Sugar molecules ending in “ose” (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose)
High-fructose corn syrup
Fruit juice concentrates
Invert sugar
Malt sugar
Raw sugar

And what are we really consuming?
 A study conducted by the AHA found children as young as 1-3 years already bypass the daily recommendations, and typically consume around 12 teaspoons of sugar a day. By the time a child is 4-8 years old, his sugar consumption skyrockets to an average of 21 teaspoons a day. The same study found 14-18 year old children intake the most sugar on a daily basis, averaging about 34.3 teaspoons. In general, a statement from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted from 2001-2004 found the average American consumes the equivalent of 22.2 teaspoons of added sugar. That is about triple the recommended adult amount! (

There is more added sugar in our food today so it is important to read labels- and look at your child's plate! Have you seen the myplate picture that replaced the nutrition pyramid we grew up with? Keep it in mind every time you make your child's plate.  (

An interesting fact
In 1822 Americans consumed the amount of added sugar in one 12-ounce can of soda every five days. Today we consume that amount every ten hours...which is equivalent to 12 cans of soda in five days. ("Are we too sweet?," 2012).

If you'd like to learn more....
Sugar Crusader Dr. Robert Lustig's recent book Fat Chance has received a lot of attention ( we have an office copy if you'd like to borrow it.)  Lustig’s name probably sounds familiar - more than 3.6 million people have watched his 2009 viral YouTube mini-series Sugar: The Bitter Truth.

Dr. Lustig is Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology at UCSF and Director of the UCSF Weight Assessment for Teen and Child Health (WATCH) Program. He is nationally recognized in the field of pediatric neuroendocrinology and a leading expert on childhood obesity.

Lustig investigates not just the detrimental biological effects of consuming sweets. He is also interested in identifying how hidden sugars find their way into our diet and how our society's sugar consumption has contributed to declining health in the general population, not just among those who are classically obese.  (Hoffman, 2013).

Why is sugar so bad for us?
The easy and widely accepted answer is  that refined sugar and it's popular substitute high fructose corn syrup (H.F.C.S.) don’t come with any protein, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants or fiber, and so they either displace other more nutritious elements of our diet or are eaten in addition to what we need to sustain our weight, which is why we get fatter.  Lustig (and some biochemists) argue, however, not about the consumption of empty calories. They state that sugar has unique characteristics, specifically in the way the human body metabolizes the fructose in it, that may make it harmful on its own, at least if consumed in sufficient quantities.  (Taubes, 2011).

To simplify this theory, Gary Taubes of The New York Times  writes "the fructose component of sugar and H.F.C.S. is metabolized primarily by the liver, while the glucose from sugar and starches is metabolized by every cell in the body. Consuming sugar (fructose and glucose) means more work for the liver than if you consumed the same number of calories of starch (glucose). And if you take that sugar in liquid form — soda (or fruit juices) — the fructose and glucose will hit the liver more quickly than if you consume them in an apple (or several apples, to get what researchers would call the equivalent dose of sugar). The speed with which the liver has to do its work will also affect how it metabolizes the fructose and glucose."

The last time an agency of the federal government looked into the question of sugar and health in any detail was in 2005, in a report by the Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Academies. The authors of the report acknowledged that plenty of evidence suggested that sugar could increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes — even raising LDL cholesterol, known as the “bad cholesterol”—– but did not consider the research to be definitive.   (Taubes, 2011).

Currently, the National Institutes of Health are supporting surprisingly few clinical trials related to sugar and high-fructose corn syrup in the U.S. All are small, and none will last more than a few months. Lustig and his colleagues at U.C.S.F.  are doing one of these studies. It will look at what happens when obese teenagers consume no sugar other than what they might get in fruits and vegetables. Another study will do the same with pregnant women to see if their babies are born healthier and leaner.  (Taubes, 2011).

So what to eat? 
Lustig says (in his January interview with Oprah Magazine) "Real food! That's it. If it came out of the ground, or it's from an animal that ate what came out of the ground, you're good to go. But if a human processed it in between, either something was added, usually sugar, or something was removed, most likely fiber and micronutrients like vitamins and minerals. The key for most people is reducing insulin, and to do that, you have to put back fiber into your diet and cut back on refined carbohydrates and sugar. If you're buying food that has a nutrition label, it's been processed. And if any form of sugar is one of the first three ingredients, consider it a dessert. When I was a kid, we had dessert once a week. Now we have it once a meal, and it's almost always processed. That's the problem. " (Schomer, 2013).

Is sugar as bad as Lustig claims is?
The answer could be. It very well may be true that sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, because of the unique way in which we metabolize fructose and at the levels we now consume it, cause fat to accumulate in our livers followed by insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, and so trigger the process that leads to heart disease, diabetes and obesity. They could indeed be toxic, but they take years to do their damage. It doesn’t happen overnight. Until long-term studies are done, we won’t know for sure. (Taubes, 2011).

In the meantime, I suggest you try your best to stick with the AHA current guidelines and practice the delicate balance of limiting your child's sugar intake without making it into a major battle. Good luck!

Are we too sweet? Our kids' addiction to sugar. (2012). Retrieved June 26, 2013, from

Hoffman, Jacquie (2013, January 30). Dr. Robert Lustig: UCSF’s Sugar Crusader.  Synapse, the UCSF student newspaper. Retrieved from

Taubes, Gary (2011, April 13). Is Sugar Toxic? The New York Times. Retrieved from

Schomer, Stephanie (2013, January). The Sweet Lowdown: Exposing the Unhealthy Truth About Sugar. O, The Oprah Magazine

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