But Seriously, How Much Sugar Is Too Much? Is Natural OK?

What about fruit or maple syrup? We answer all your sugary questions.

Girl eating donut, sugar
Image: instagram.com/tristynlecia

We all know that too much sugar is not healthy but how much is actually too much? Where are sugars hiding? Are any OK or should we be cutting sugar out altogether? There is conflicting (and confusing) information out there on sugar—‘natural sugar’, ‘refined sugars’, ‘added sugars’—which can make it hard to know what we’re consuming so let me break it down for you.

Understanding Sugars


Sugar is the generic name given to sweet soluble carbohydrates that the body breaks down for energy. Sugar is naturally present in almost all foods—fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, legumes and milk. These foods deliver natural sugars paired with other important nutrients such as protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals so cutting them out completely would be madness! But not all ‘sugar’ is created equal. The sugars we need to watch out for are those that are added to processed foods such as soft drinks, pastries, biscuits, yoghurts, cereals and condiments.

Sugars are found naturally in lots of everyday healthy foods. So it’s the added sugar foods that we need to be mindful of. Consuming foods with added sugars can quickly build up over the course of the day and it’s detrimental to our health. A diet high in sugars can lead to dental cavities as well as unhealthy weight gain which is why the World Health Organisation recommends adults and children reduce their added sugars intake to less than 10 percent of their total energy intake, ideally less than 5%. A recent ABS study showed that 1 in 2 Australians are exceeding the recommended intake of total sugars and these sugars are mainly coming from ‘added’ sugars—those contained in processed foods and drinks.

The 411 On Reducing Your Intake

  1. One of the best ways to be on top of your sugar intake is to look at the ingredient list on products. These lists are ordered in order of weight from highest to lowest so if sugar comes early on the list, you know that product is a high sugar food. Sugar also has a number of different names—fructose, sucrose, maltose, dextrose, glucose, corn syrup, molasses, golden syrup, honey, maple syrup, malt, lactose, brown sugar, caster sugar, raw sugar, coconut sugar, rice malt syrup, agave … just to mention a few! If you find any of these on the list, that product contains added sugar.
  2. Another easy way to cut down your sugar intake is to make healthy swaps. Swapping out foods with added sugars to foods with natural sugars such as trading your blueberry muffin for an apple and some trail mix.
  3. Limit your intake of foods that are known to be high in added sugars such as soft drinks, energy drinks and sports drinks, muffins, pastries, lollies, ice-cream and packaged sauces.
  4. Limit your intake of fruit juice. Juicing removes the fibre and leaves you just with the naturally occurring sugars which can spike blood glucose levels. It’s much better to choose whole pieces of fruit over fruit juice.

Often people are blissfully unaware of the amount of sugar they are consuming. Monitor your intake and then try to cut it down. It only takes a few small, positive changes to get your sugar intake under control. If you’re suffering from cravings while you’re cutting back, that’s normal. Check out these 11 tips and read Jessica Sepel’s foolproof plan to banish them for good.

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Lucy Beaumont
Lucy is a practicing Clinical Nutritionist, Pilates instructor and health writer. Lucy practices at Transform Health and teaches at several Pilates studios (mat, reformer and equipment) around Sydney’s Eastern suburbs, city and inner west. And has taught in some of the best studios in New York and loves to write. With a strong belief that preventative nutritional medicine is fundamental to a healthy mind and body, she regularly scours the latest health and nutrition literature as well as attending conferences and seminars. As an extreme foodie, Lucy firmly believes in the ‘everything in moderation’ mantra, and loves cooking, eating and entertaining.