Sugar and Weight Gain

Research makes it clear — excess sugar consumption and weight gain go hand in hand. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that no more than 10 percent of your calorie intake each day should be calories from sugar. In addition to the health risks associated with eating sugar, we now know that eating more sugar often means gaining more weight. If you really want to make a health change this year, cutting back on sugar is a great place to start.

These are intense or uncontrollable desires for specific foods, stronger than normal hunger. The types of foods that people crave are highly variable, but these are often processed junk foods that are high in sugar.

A white flower with yellow center on blue background.

What Is a Safe Amount of Sugar to Eat Per Day?

Unfortunately, there is 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 (24 grams or 6 teaspoons)

Children vary depending on their age and caloric needs, but range between 3-6 teaspoons (12-24 grams) daily.

Even with fruit, sugar count can add up quickly and result in the inability to lose weight. Sugar is a simple carbohydrate that provides calories for your body to use as energy. There are two main types of sugar.

Natural sugar is found in whole, unprocessed foods. These include fruit, vegetables, dairy, and some grains. Fructose is a natural sugar found in fruit. Lactose is a natural sugar found in milk. Added sugars are sugars and syrups put in foods during preparation or processing or added at the table.  Added sugar provides little to no nutritional value.

But how does it affect the brain and body when it has been consumed?

When sugar hits the tongue, it activates the sweet receptors, which send a signal from the tongue to the cerebral cortex and thus creates and releases a rush of feel-good hormones like serotonin and dopamine. From the cerebral cortex, the signal activates the brain’s reward system, a series of electrical and chemical pathways, across different parts of the brain that encourage us to eat more sweets. Eating a lot of sweets, or over-activating the reward system, causes loss of control, temptation, cravings, and increased tolerance to sugar. Ultimately, it can lead to sugar addiction.

Even “healthy†foods can be high in sugar. All this sugar may be a key factor in several major illnesses, including heart disease and diabetes.

Why it’s bad for you

Sugar is added to many types of foods, and eating too much of the sweet stuff—even when it seems to come from a natural source—is a risk for weight gain, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, and even dementia. A diet heavy in added sugar is linked to a risk of dying from heart disease even if you’re not overweight, according to a study that was published earlier this year in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Added sugar is obviously in candy, cake, cookies, pies, pastries, ice cream, soda, and fruit drinks. But it’s also in foods that aren’t considered sweets, including salad dressings, crackers, bread, pasta sauce, barbecue sauce, ketchup, and breakfast cereals. Added sugar is hidden in foods that many of us consider healthy, like yogurt and energy bars.

Most of this is hidden within processed foods, so people don’t even realize they’re eating it.

You can sometimes find added sugar by looking at the ingredients in a product. Look for words ending in “ose,†such as fructose, dextrose, and maltose, and look for syrups and juices.

What you should do

Look at Nutrition Facts and read the ingredients list carefully. Reading the ingredient label on processed foods can help to identify added sugars.

Sweeten foods yourself. You’ll probably add less sugar than a manufacturer would.  So it is a good idea to pay close attention to how much sugar is in the foods you are consuming.

Be smart. Know the other names to spot the hidden sources of sugar in foods.

Examples of added sugars to look for on food labels include:

Agave Syrup or Agave Nectar

Anhydrous dextrose

Barbados Sugar,

Barley malt,

Beet sugar

Brown sugar (light and dark brown),

Cane Sugar

Cane juice


Confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar),

Corn Sweetener

Corn Syrup




Evaporated Cane Juice


Fruit juice concentrates



High Fructose Corn Syrup(HFC-42, HFC-55, HFC-90

Invert Sugar

Levulose (Fructose)

Raw Sugar


Malt Sugar











Turbinado Sugar

Not all sugars are created equal. Here’s what you need to know about the different varieties to help you on your health journey.

Here are some sugar Alternatives:

Sugar Alcohols

Sugar alcohols, also known as polyols, are ingredients used as sweeteners and bulking agents. They occur naturally in foods and come from plant products such as fruits and berries. The carbohydrate in these plant products is altered through a chemical process. These sugar substitutes provide somewhat fewer calories than table sugar (sucrose), mainly because they are not well absorbed and may even have a small laxative effect. The body is unable to fully metabolize them, and consequently, they can cause cramps or bloating if taken in excess. They are harmless to teeth and tend to have a very low glycemic index. Many food products labeled “sugar-free†or “no sugar added†including hard candies, cookies, chewing gums, soft drinks and throat lozenges often consist of sugar alcohols. They are frequently used in toothpaste and mouthwash too. Here are some examples:

  • Erythritol
  • Glucitol
  • Hydrogenated Starch Hydrolysate (HSH)
  • Isomalt
  • Lactitol
  • Maltitol
  • Mannitol
  • Polydextrose
  • Sorbitol
  • Xylitol

Natural Caloric Sweeteners

These are the oldest known sweeteners and include honey and maple syrup. They contain sugar, but also other nutritive qualities. Simply put, natural sweeteners are sweeteners made from concentrated components of edible plants. They tend to have a somewhat lower glycemic index than sugar, but still need to be taken in moderation as they can be detrimental to health in large quantities. They are high in calories, loaded with sugar, and could contribute to weight gain over time. They can also be harmful to teeth. Here are some examples:

  • Birch Syrup
  • Blackstrap molasses,
  • Cane juice,
  • Carob Syrup,
  • Coconut Palm Sugar,
  • Fructooligosaccharide,
  • Inulin
  • Molasses
  • Monatin
  • Oligofructose
  • Sorghum Syrup
  • Yacon Syrup
  1. Natural Zero Calorie Sweeteners

These are not carbohydrates and contain little or no calories. It is only in recent years that interest has grown in these as a better alternative to artificial sweeteners. They have zero glycemic index and are harmless to teeth. Like artificial sweeteners, they can have an aftertaste. Here are some examples:

  • Brazzein,
  • Curculin,
  • Glycyrrhizin (Licorice),
  • Miraculin,
  • Monellin,
  • Monk Fruit (Luo Han Guo),
  • Pentadin,
  • Stevia,
  • Stevioside,

Even healthier sugars and sweeteners can be harmful in high amounts. Ideally, all types of sugars and sweeteners should be limited in a healthy diet.

Artificial (Synthetic) Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are sugar substitutes that are produced using synthetic methods. Artificial sweeteners may (1) stimulate appetite and cause you to eat more; (2) negatively impact your gut biome in a way that may contribute to obesity and diabetes, and (3) cause inflammation in various regions of the brain that have been shown to occur in obese individuals. Overstimulation of sugar receptors from frequent use of these hyper-intense sweeteners may limit tolerance for more complex tastes,†explains Dr. Ludwig. That means people who routinely use artificial sweeteners may start to find less intensely sweet foods, such as fruit, less appealing and unsweet foods, such as vegetables, downright unpalatable. In other words, the use of artificial sweeteners can make you shun healthy, filling, and highly nutritious foods while consuming more artificially flavored foods with less nutritional value.

There are many types of artificial sweeteners on the market and some appear to be safer than others. They have been in use in America and Europe for over 120 years. It’s full of chemicals. But there are no calories. They have zero glycemic index and are harmless to teeth.

Some common names for artificial sweeteners are:

  • Aspartame
  • Sucralose
  • Saccharin
  • Neotame
  • Acesulfame K
  • Cyclamate
  • They also include: Advantame, Alitame, Aspartame-Acesulfame Salt, Neohesperidin DC.

Studies show that excess sugar intake may be associated with a higher risk of heart disease, depression, weight gain, and impaired blood sugar control.

Meanwhile, artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols are commonly found in foods that have been highly processed and pumped with additives and preservatives, most of which should be limited on a healthy diet as well.

Therefore, it’s best to limit your intake of all types of added sugar, including natural sugars and sweeteners like coconut sugar, honey, and maple syrup.

Instead, enjoy your favorite sweets from time to time alongside a variety of fruits, veggies, proteins, and healthy fats as part of a nutritious, well-rounded diet.


Sugar is commonly added to processed foods. Manufacturers often use several different kinds of sugar so they can hide the real amount. The negative health effects of high sugar consumption are due to the massive amount of added sugar that is present in the Western diet.

The most effective way to reduce your sugar intake is to eat mostly whole and unprocessed foods. However, if you decide to buy packaged foods, be on the lookout for the many different names that sugar goes by.

To avoid consuming too much sugar, make sure you read nutrition labels and ingredient lists. But the best solution is to avoid processed foods and premade sauces and cook fresh meals with whole foods like veggies, meat, herbs, and other wholesome ingredients. It can be disappointing to discover that many favorite foods have hidden sugars in them.

Often these items have become favorites because of the addictive nature of sugar. But nothing tastes as good as healthy feels.

At the end of the day, it’s important to figure out the sugar intake that’s right for you. Some people can handle a little bit of sugar in their diet, while for others it causes cravings, binge eating, rapid weight gain, and disease. Every individual is unique and you need to figure out what works for you.

List of Sweetener Brand Names

Aclame: Contains Alitame – Artificial Sweetener

AminoSweet: Contains Aspartame- Artificial Sweetener

C*Eridex: Contains Erythritol – Sugar Alcohol

Candarel: Contains Aspartame – Artificial Sweetener

ClearCut™: Contains: Isomalt – Sugar Alcohol

Cologran: Contains Saccharin,  and Cyclamate – Artificial Sweetener

Cweet: Contains Brazzein – Natural Sweetener

DiabetiSweet: Contains Isomalt  and Acesulfame K

Equal: Contains Aspartame – Artificial Sweetener

EZ-Sweetz: Contains Sucralose – Artificial Sweetener

Ideal: Contains Xylitol and Sucralose

Just Like Sugar: Contains Inulin – Sugar Fiber

Heremesetas: Contains Saccharin – Artificial Sweetener

Lacty: Contains – Lactitol – Sugar Alcohol

Lakanto: Contains Erythritol and Monk Fruit

Maltisweet: Contains Maltitol – Sugar Alcohol

NatraTaste: Contains Aspartame- Artificial Sweetener

Necta Sweet: Contains Saccharin – Artificial Sweetener

Nevalla: Contains Sucralose – and Maltodextrin – Sugar

NuStevia: Contains Stevia – Natural Sweetener

NutraSweet: Contains Aspartame – Artificial Sweetener

Polysweet: Contains Xylitol – Sugar Alcohol

Purefruit: Contains Monk Fruit – Natural Sweetener

PureVia: Contains Stevia and Maltodextrin

SomerSweet: Contains Inulin and Erythritol

Splenda: Contains Sucralose and Maltodextrin – Sugar

Sucaryl: Contains Saccharin and Cyclamate – Artificial Sweetener

Sunett: Contains Acesulfame K – Artificial Sweetener

Sweet’N Low: Contains Saccharin – Artificial Sweetener

Sweet Fiber: Contains Inulin and Monk Fruit

SweetPearl: Contains Maltitol – Sugar Alcohol

SweetPerfection: Inulin and Erythritol

Sweet One: Contains Acesulfame K – Artificial Sweetener

Sweet Sensation: Contains Monk Fruit(Luo Han Guo) – Natural Sweetener

Sweetzfree: Contains Sucralose – Artificial Sweetener

Swerve: Contains Inulin and Erythritol

Tagatesse: Contains Tagatose – and Sucralose

Talin: Contains Thaumatin – Natural Sweetener

Truvia: Contains Stevia and Erythritol

TwinSweet: Contains Aspartame and Acesulfame K – Artificial Sweetener

Whey Low:: Contains fructose, lactose, and sucrose – Sugar

Xylosweet: Contains Xylitol- Sugar Alcohol

Zeros: Contains Erythritol – Sugar Alcohol

ZSweet: Contains Erythritol – Sugar Alcohol

It is worth looking carefully at the ingredients included in brands. In the US a product can be listed as zero calories if it contains 5 calories or less per serving. Splenda contains 4 calories per serving (all derived from Maltodextrin – a very high glycemic sugar). A cup of Splenda contains 96 calories, and it would be easy to use a cup in a recipe. This could cause problems for a diabetic person on a low glycemic diet.