How much sugar should I eat to lose weight? The body needs sugar and carbohydrates to function properly, let alone lose weight. But for many people, knowing how much is “good” and how much is “bad” can feel like a guessing game. Our bodies need carbohydrates for energy and for daily processes, including digestion and absorption of nutrients. Sugar is a major cause of weight gain in our diets today and most people do not even realize they are putting it into their bodies everyday.
How Many Grams of Sugar Should You Eat Each Day to Lose Weight?
You’ve no doubt heard that sugar has been the number one culprit behind weight gain. In fact, over the last few years, sugar has all but been demonized as the terrible-for-you ingredient that is as addictive as cocaine and will lead to heart disease and diabetes. And while that’s all a bit of an exaggeration, there’s no denying that sugar, especially added sugar found in packaged food and sweets, isn’t great for your health.
The American Heart Association recommends no more than six teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar a day for women and nine teaspoons (36) grams for men. “Added sugars contribute zero nutrients but many added calories that can lead to extra pounds or even obesity, thereby reducing heart health,” the AHA wrote on its website. And the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends only 10 percent of your diet come from added sugar, noting that “a further reduction to below five percent or roughly 25 grams (6 teaspoons) per day would provide additional health benefits.”
OK, got it: keep the sugar down for overall health. But what’s the sugar threshold for weight loss? Turns out, there’s not a one-size-fits-all number. “There isn’t a specific value for how many grams of sugar you should eat for weight loss,” Ysabel Montemayor, RD, lead dietitian at Fresh n’ Lean, told POPSUGAR “Many foods contain sugar, such as breads, grains, beverages, sweets, dairy products, fruits, and even vegetables.” She added that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend, like the WHO, no more than 10 percent of calories come from added sugar. So for a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, this would be around 50 grams of added sugar. Plus carbs, which contain sugar, should constitute 45-65 percent of your diet, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (about 225-325 grams of total carbs).
To make matters more confusing, Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD, said there is no recommendation for sugar grams separate from total carb grams; while there is a recommendation for added sugar, total sugar gets a lot more confusing since foods like fruit and whole-grain carbs also contain sugar. And while the FDA revealed that new food packaging will distinguish between grams of total sugar and added sugar on the nutrition label, that feature is currently not on the market.
Instead of focusing on a specific gram amount, Ysabel recommends choosing sugar-containing foods that are fiber-rich, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, which can help you lose weight because “they are absorbed more slowly into the body and can keep you fuller longer.” Refined sugar and sweets, on the other hand, are digested quickly and cause a spike in blood sugar, leading to an inevitable crash, which can mess with your insulin levels and cause weight gain. While Ysabel recommended to limit added sugars and refined carbs, Ana said she tells her clients to choose packaged foods that have less than 10 grams of sugar on the label.
Overall, the amount of total sugar you should eat in a day should be determined by your doctor or registered dietitian, especially if you’re looking to lose weight. Ysabel added that certain people, such as those with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, may have more specific needs, which should be determined by their healthcare provider.
In general, it’s best to stick to the AHA guidelines, which is not only good for weight loss but also for overall health: 25 grams or less of added sugar a day. If you need help cutting back, check out these handy steps.
What is a safe amount of sugar to eat per day?
Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer to this question. Some people can eat a lot of sugar without harm, while others should avoid it as much as possible.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the maximum amount of added sugars you should eat in a day are:
- Men: 150 calories per day (37.5 grams or 9 teaspoons)
- Women: 100 calories per day (25 grams or 6 teaspoons)
To put that into perspective, one 12-ounce (355-mL) can of Coke contains 140 calories from sugar, while a regular-sized Snickers bar contains 120 calories from sugar.
In contrast, the US dietary guidelines advise people to limit their intake to less than 10% of their daily calorie intake. For a person eating 2,000 calories per day, this would equal 50 grams of sugar, or about 12.5 teaspoons.
If you’re healthy and active, these are reasonable recommendations. You’ll probably burn off these small amounts of sugar without them causing you any harm.
Still, it’s important to note that there’s no need for added sugars in the diet.
Recommended sugar limits
Discretionary caloriesr are those that are left over once a person has met their daily nutritional needs.
A person who has consumed calories from high-nutrient foods throughout the day can use up this extra calorie allowance on treats, such as sugary or fatty foods.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommend that sugary foods comprise no more than half of a person’s daily discretionary calorie allowance.
This allowance differs for men, women, and children.
According to AHA guidelines, most men should consume no more than 150 discretionary calories of sugar per day. This is equivalent to 38 g or 9 teaspoons (tsp) of sugar.
Women should use no more than 100 discretionary calories on sugar per day. This is around 25 g or 6 tsp of sugar.
Children between the ages of 2 and 18 should consume no more than 25 g, or 6 tsp, of added sugar daily.
People with diabetes
Diabetes makes it difficult for the body to use glucose effectively. Since the body converts both naturally occurring and added sugars into glucose, people with diabetes must monitor their overall sugar intake.
But some foods affect blood glucose levels more than others, depending on their glycemic index (GI). Foods with a higher GI raise blood glucose more than foods with a lower GI.
A person with diabetes should regularly check their blood glucose level to ensure that it is within a safe range. This range will vary slightly from person to person.
Avoiding added sugars and focusing on consuming the right amounts of fiber and nutrient-dense carbohydrates from whole foods can help stabilize blood sugar levels.
Added sugar vs. natural sugar
Certain whole foods contain naturally occurring sugars.
For example, fruits and some vegetables contain the sugar fructose, and milk contains a sugar called lactose. These foods also contain nutrients and may be sources of dietary fiber.
Added sugars are sugars or caloric sweeteners that manufacturers put in foods or drinks.
Added sugars can be natural or chemically manufactured. A type of sugar can be “natural” (i.e. unprocessed) without being “naturally occurring.”
Examples of natural sugars that manufacturers add to provide sweetness include honey, maple syrup, and coconut sugar.
Even fructose and lactose qualify as added sugars in many processed foods.
Examples of added sugars to look for on food labels include:
- refined white sugar
- brown sugar
- raw sugar
- invert sugar
- malt sugar
- coconut sugar
- maple syrup
- corn syrup
- high-fructose corn syrup
- corn sweetener
- fruit juice concentrates
- sugar molecules ending in “ose,” such as fructose, glucose, dextrose, lactose, maltose, and sucrose
How Many Grams of Sugar Should You Have to Lose Weight?
To lose weight and maintain overall health, follow American Heart Association (AHA) guidelines of having 25 grams or less of added sugar a day
When it comes to losing weight, calorie intake is more important to calculate than sugar intake. However, it is best to adhere to guidelines from the American Heart Association (AHA), which recommends having 25 grams or less of added sugar a day.
- Men: No more than 150 calories (37.5 grams or 9 teaspoons) a day should be from added sugar
- Women: No more than 100 calories (25 grams or 6 teaspoons) a day should be from added sugar
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans has slightly different guidelines, recommending consuming no more than 10% of your daily calories from added sugars. For example, if a person consumes around 2,000 calories per day, no more than 200 calories should come from added sugars.
Sugar will not necessarily prevent you from losing weight or fat. You lose weight when you burn more calories than you consume. However, since extra sugar is stored in the body as fat, eating too much sugar can lead to weight gain.
What is the difference between added sugars and natural sugars?
Understanding the difference between added sugars and natural sugars is important in creating a healthy diet plan.
Added sugars are sugars that have been added during the processing of foods or beverages, often labeled as:
- Brown rice syrup
- Corn syrup
- High fructose corn syrup
- Molasses and other things
Natural sugars, however, are those that can be found naturally. Examples include milk, whole fruits, and vegetables. These foods also contain important nutrients, fiber, and water.
How do you know how much sugar is natural versus added in foods?
You can now find out whether there is added sugar in packaged foods, thanks to the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) for mandating the update of the Nutrition Facts label to help you make informed choices. With the new label regulations, food companies now have to add a line for added sugar on the Nutrition Facts panel. You may see “Includes X grams of added sugar” under “Sugars” on the panel.
For instance, if a food has 10 grams of sugar and says, “includes 8 grams of added sugars” on the nutrition facts label, then you know that only 2 grams of sugar in the product are naturally occurring.
Check the ingredients list, too. A dried fruit product, for example, may say “mangoes, sugar,” so you know some of the sugar comes naturally from the mango but the rest is added. If the ingredients list only says, “mangoes,” then you know that all the sugar in the dried mangoes is naturally occurring and none has been added.
A good rule of thumb is that fruits, vegetables and plain dairy products all contain natural sugar. Anything else is probably added.
What if you have diabetes?
The AHA’s recommendation for added sugar “is no different for people with diabetes,” says Molly Cleary, RD, CDE, a registered dietitian of Molly Clearly Nutrition based in New York City. “Almost everyone would benefit from limiting added sugar intake, including those with diabetes; however, small amounts of added sugar can be worked into a balanced diet,” she says.
The thought that sugar causes diabetes is a myth, according to the American Diabetes Association. However, excess sugar can lead to weight gain, increasing your risk of type 2 diabetes. Drinking too many sugary beverages has also been linked to type 2 diabetes.
If you do drink soda, sweet tea or other sweetened beverages regularly, it’s a good idea to cut back. Try using less sugar in your tea and coffee, drinking unsweetened flavored seltzers or adding herbs and fruits (think mint, strawberry or lemon) to your water to make it more exciting.
What if you want to lose weight?
“The problem with sugar and weight loss [for many] isn’t candy, soda and cookies,” says Megan Kober, RD, a registered dietitian and founder of Nutrition Addiction. “The problem is juice bars [offer] smoothies…with 2 cups of fruit…and acai bowls [that] people are loading up on for weight loss…yet [these bowls could include] 40, 50, even 60 grams of sugar… [similar to] a [can of] pop.”
“Honey, agave, coconut sugar—it’s all sugar,” she adds. “It all causes a blood sugar spike. It all causes a rush of insulin to be released. It all puts your body into fat-storage mode.”
For those who wonder how much sugar they should stay under to lose weight, Kober says, “Are you really going to tally up how much sugar you’re eating all day long, added sugar versus natural sugar? No. I doubt it,” she says. Instead, “Eat one or two servings of fruit every day. Choose berries more often because they’re high in fiber and lower in sugar than other fruit.”
Ways Too Much Sugar Harms Your Body
Harm: Weight Gain
Sugar-sweetened beverages are a big source of added sugars for Americans. If you drink a can of soda every day and don’t trim calories elsewhere, in three years you’d be 15 pounds heavier. Putting on too much weight can lead to problems like diabetes and some cancers.
Harm: Heart Disease
One in 10 Americans gets 1/4 or more of their daily calories from added sugar. If you eat that much, one study found that you’re more than twice as likely to die from heart disease than someone who gets less than half as much. It’s not clear why. It could be that the extra sugar raises your blood pressure or releases more fats into the bloodstream. Both can lead to heart attack, stroke, and other heart diseases.
Sugary drinks in particular can boost your odds for type 2 diabetes. That can happen because when sugar stays in your blood, your body may react by making less of the hormone insulin, which converts the food you eat into energy. Or the insulin doesn’t work as well. If you’re overweight, dropping even 10-15 pounds can help you manage your blood sugar.
Harm: High Blood Pressure
Usually, salt gets the blame for this condition, also called hypertension. But some researchers say another white crystal — sugar — may be a more worrisome culprit. One way they believe sugar raises blood pressure is by making your insulin levels spike too high. That can make your blood vessels less flexible and cause your kidneys to hold onto water and sodium.
Harm: High Cholesterol
Sugary diets are bad for your heart, regardless of how much you weigh. They can:
- Raise your so-called “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and lower the “good” (HDL) kind.
- Hike blood fats called triglycerides and hinder the work of an enzyme that breaks them down.
Harm: Liver Disease
Most packaged foods, snacks, and drinks are sweetened with fructose, a simple sugar from fruits or veggies like corn. Your liver turns it into fat. If you regularly pump fructose into your body, tiny drops of fat build up in your liver. This is called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Early diet changes can reverse it. But over time, swelling and scarring can damage your liver.
You know sugar rots your teeth. How? It feeds the bacteria in your mouth, which leave behind acid that wears away your tooth enamel. Sugary drinks, dried fruits, candy, and chocolate are common offenders. Sour candies are among the worst. They’re almost as acidic as battery acid! If you eat tart treats, rinse your mouth with water afterward or drink some milk to neutralize the acid.
Harm: Poor Sleep
Too much sugar during the day can mess with your blood glucose levels and cause energy spikes and crashes. You may struggle to stay awake at work or doze off in class at school. In the evenings, a bowl of ice cream or cookies can pump you with sugar that can wake you up at night. It also can cut short the time you’re in deep sleep. So you may not wake up feeling refreshed.