How much sugar can you have safely?

sugar cubes against desserts Sugar (Image: Pixabay)

Correct me if I am wrong. Last time I checked, white sugar was still the evil incarnate. We’ve been told ad nauseum that it has no health benefits. Everyone — from doctors to dieticians to my annoying friend on a perpetual cleanse — has told me it’s best to avoid it.

And what about its grim-sounding sobriquets like “White poison” and “White death”?

Also, “Cut down on sugar,” is usually the first health advice any expert worth his or her salt will give.

So imagine my horror when I stumbled upon this:

It’s a site that extols the many virtues of sugar, portraying it as a wronged, noble ingredient. Sugar, it says, is a victim of ” negative propaganda” and a “target of malicious slandering.”

Its core argument is that the sweetener does not directly cause diabetes, cardiovascular disease or dental caries.

I dug around a little, only to realise that the website is by ISMA or the Indian Sugar Mills Association. Aha!

Clearly, it’s a ploy to get Indians to eat more sugar, now that Diwali is around the corner. Or is it?

For starters, the ISMA sounds convinced that there’s a conspiracy against the sweetener.

I am no authority in this matter, so let’s look at the research.

Note that sugar and added sugar are two different ideas. Sugar can be naturally present in foods like fruit, milk and even grains. The presence of fibre in these foods negates the ill-effects of sugar.

Added sugar, as it literally means, is sugar added to food or drinks.

What does science say about sugar?

The debate started in the 1970s when two opposing camps blamed two different things for the cardiovascular epidemic.

American biochemist Ancel Keys blamed saturated fat and British nutritionist John Yudkin blamed sugar.

But back then, everyone thought fat was the greater evil. And for four decades, low-fat diet became the mainstay of nutritional guidelines. ‘I travelled 1,500 km with my baby to join India’s fight against COVID-19’

In the 2000s, obesity researcher Dr George Bray and paediatrician Dr Robert Lustig kick-started the debate again. They blamed added sugars like sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup for rising obesity in the US.

Soon, the medical community started taking a hard look at its health hazards.

In a 2014 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers found that a high-sugar diet increased your risk of dying from heart disease.

Evidence says that it may increase inflammation, weight gain, triglycerides and blood pressure. These raise the heart-disease risk. Getting dads to stay indoors during the pandemic: An exercise in futility

Added sugars can increase your risk of obesity, which can contribute to sleep disorders, heart problems, diabetes and even cancer. It messes with your hunger hormones and makes you overeat, according to studies.

An ecological study also suggests that sugar consumption and the incidence of diabetes in certain countries have increased side-by-side.

Obesity, which increases diabetes risk, is also tied to high consumption of the sweetener. It also increases the risk of impaired brain function, cancer and even non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

But despite this, there is an equal amount of conflicting studies that say sugar on its own does not cause any of these problems. ‘Do NOT wear N95’: CDC just schooled us on how to wear a mask

This has caused the two camps of nutrition researchers to be at war with each other.

A review published in the journal Nutrients sums up the situation. That scientists researching sugar are like the blind men in the ancient fable trying to feel up the elephant. No one has seen the complete picture of the health effects of the sweetener.

But international organisations like WHO and CDC are sure about one thing. That you need to check your consumption. Nipah virus could strike at any time, anywhere? Yikes!

So how much sugar can you have?

Erm.. from what I’ve read so far, too much of it is definitely bad for you. But you can clearly always have moderate amounts. It’s WHO and CDC approved.

The general consensus is that less than 10% of your total daily calorie consumption can come from added sugar.

So if your caloric consumption for the day is 1,500 calories, you shouldn’t have more than 150 calories from sugar.

World Health Organization goes a step further and recommends that you should ultimately bring the upper limit to 5%.

There are 16 calories in a single teaspoon (USDA). So for 150 calories, you can have a little over 9 teaspoons in a day. That’s not bad, right?

"how much calories in one teaspoon of sugar"
There are roughly sixteen calories in a teaspoon of sugar (Image: Google)

I am glad that I learnt something today.

Eliminating sugar completely from your diet is not possible for many reasons. During festivities, it’s hard to say no to scrumptious sweets. With Diwali and Christmas around the corner, most households are cranking up the sweet production. I know mine is.

Instead of upsetting your family who slogged away in the kitchen for days, you can always allow yourself some sweets. Moderation, as always, is key.