Understand sugars and sugar targets in the Nutrient Explorer

What they are

Sugars are simple carbohydrates, composed of just one or two sugar molecules (generally glucose or fructose, but sometimes galactose in the case of dairy sugars).

What they do

Most of the carbs you consume are sugars or starches. For more on the general effects of dietary carbohydrates, refer to the article on carbohydrates.

Recommended intake

Most health agencies don’t have recommendations for total sugar intake (most focus on added sugars, sometimes referred to as “free sugars”), but the British NHS recommends that total sugar intake should stay below 90 grams per day.

Excessive sugar intake has been linked to obesity, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and several cancers, but added sugars seem to be the primary culprit. Sugars consumed in the context of whole-food sources (for example, the sugars present in a ripe peach, melon, berry, or tomato) don’t seem to be nearly as much of a concern. 

Likelihood of tracking completeness: Very high

Virtually all foods in the MacroFactor database contain sugar information, so it should be easy to accurately track your sugar intake with consistent food logging.

For more on the likelihood of tracking completeness, check out this article.

Likelihood of excessive intake: High

The average total sugar intake in most developed countries ranges from about 80-110 grams of sugar per day.

For more on nutrients with a greater likelihood of insufficient or excessive intake, you should check out this article.

Signs of excessive intake

Most acutely, excessive sugar intake is related to increased hunger and decreased satiety (since sugar is less satiating than other energetic nutrients) and fluctuating energy levels – a quick burst of energy, followed by a crash. However, those effects are much more common with added sugars than naturally occurring sugars in whole foods. Most whole foods with relatively high levels of sugar (most fruits, for instance) also contain fiber, which slows digestion, keeps you feeling full for longer, and reduces fluctuations in energy levels.

Good sources

The best, most nutrient-dense sources of sugar in the diet are fruits (which typically have pretty high sugar content), and the handful of vegetables with relatively high sugar content. These foods also have plenty of fiber, micronutrients, and other beneficial bioactive compounds like polyphenols, and shouldn’t be avoided simply due to their sugar content. Berries, apples, pears, stone fruits, melons, sweet potatoes, beets, sweet peas, and bell peppers all have relatively high sugar content, but are still nutritionally excellent foods.

Learn more

If you’d like to learn more about micronutrients generally, there’s a five-part series on the MacroFactor website you might enjoy.

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