I am often being asked how much sugar should I be eating per day? Is honey better than sugar? Is raw sugar better than white sugar? What about agave syrup is this better for me?

In Australia we currently don’t have a recommended daily intake for ‘added sugars’. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that for optimal health ‘added sugar’ such as honey, syrup and raw sugar should be restricted to 5% of our total energy intake (for an adult of normal BMI it works out to be roughly 25 grams/6 teaspoons) a day. But what exactly does this mean?

If you interested to find out how much ‘added sugar’ you should be limiting your daily intake to you should start by calculating your total daily energy requirements based on your height, weight, age, gender and physical activity level. You can use the eat for health website. Once you know your daily energy requirements, 5% of should then be limited to ‘added sugar’ the rest of which should consist of protein, fat, carbohydrates. One gram of sugar contains 17kJs of energy.

The main concern though is that many of us don’t realize how much hidden and processed sugars we are consuming. Some examples of sugar in foods:

You can see how quickly this can then add up.

Australian food labeling laws do not require nutrition information panels to list the amount of natural sugars separate from ‘added sugars’ making it even harder for us to estimate our daily intake.

We are seeing a shift from white sugar, raw sugar, brown sugar and even honey to a preference for maple syrup, rice malt syrup, coconut sugar or agave syrup. These alternatives are all still classified as ‘added sugars’ and contain 17kJ of energy per gram. Just swapping out the raw sugar for agave syrup or coconut sugar won’t have any impact on your total energy intake which at the end of the day is what affects our body weight. Yes some of these 'added sugars' do have slightly different glycaemic index ratings although the affect is so minute when we consider our recommended daily intake of 'added sugars'.

How does sugar affect the brain?

Since sugar is everywhere it’s important to understand how sugar affects the brain. We know that consuming foods and drinks with sugars leads to an increased craving for sugar but why is this? Sugar activates the brains reward system; this reward system is a series of chemical pathways which entices us to eat sugar again and again. Over stimulating this reward system triggers a series of unfortunate events resulting in loss of control and cravings. Dopamine is a chemical responsible for triggering our reward system. Drugs such as alcohol and nicotine sends dopamine into overdrive which is what leads to addiction. Sugar also causes the release of dopamine although not to the same extent as drugs. The more sugar we have the higher our dopamine levels become therefore eating lots of sugar will continue to feel rewarding which is one reason why we seem to become addicted to sugary foods.


The bottom line:

Dont get too caught up on the small stuff. Lets look at the bigger picture "focus should be on reducing all sources of 'added sugars' in our dietary intake". The best way to cut added sugars out of your diet is to limit processed foods as much as possible, and satisfy your sweet tooth with fresh fruit. Remember sugar is sugar and at the end of the day the focus should be on how much we are eating.