Daily Sugar Budgets: How Will You Spend Yours?

Sugar! On a budget?!?! How can it be?

Sugar tends to be a hot topic in today’s unhealthy climate. When obesity rates correlate well with states that consume the most pop…the southeast, we tend to notice these things. Previously, I discussed high sugar content in trendy coffee drinks (What “Diabetes Here I Come” Can Teach Us, Beware: The Unicorn Frappuccino) which highlight modern examples of how easily sugar enters our modern diet.

The topic here isn’t about sugar alone. After all, carbohydrates (bread, donuts, pasta) break down into sugar. Sugar is ok. Loosely quoting Dr. Robert Lustig (a leading pediatric endocrinologist) at the 43rd Annual Applied Behavior Analysis International Conference:

“Sugar is so damn important to us, that if we don’t eat any, our body makes it on its own.”

(the process is called: gluconeogenesis —literally meaning sugar, new, make)

Some say that we should avoid all added sugar. I am not here to make that argument, but I don’t see anything wrong with it.

…this blog was written just to provide some direction given the nutritional navigational beacons that have already been set forth.

Here I address the following questions:

  • How is behavior related to following sugar guidelines?
  • Should you cap your sugar intake?
  • How much sugar am I allowed?
  • What about MY preferences?

Before we jump into any debate about sugar consumption, we need to address how our language impacts our health behaviors.

Exercise and dietary guidelines, whether they came from reputable experts, government agencies, or close friends, are rules.

On Health Rules

I discussed rules in detail in my BehaviorFit Manifesto, but simply put, rules specify certain outcomes. In the context of health and wellness, many health rules are associated with an increased or a decreased risk for certain health problems (heart disease, cancer).

Here is a popular rule: If you smoke, then you will (likely) get lung cancer.

Or this one: Drinking heavily will give you a headache tomorrow morning.

And another: Don’t drink the dirty pond water or you will get severely dehydrated.

Not many will argue with these rules, but they are simple.

Rules are guidelines to help us lead our lives in a healthier direction. We have 100’s of years of research, trial-and-error, and updates to civilization that allow us to live AMAZING AND HEALTHY LIVES! We should take advantage of them.

Following rules are a good way to stay alive.

Creating Your Own Rules

Getting back to the sugar argument…

Let’s say you picked up on the sugar recommendations that I outlined in the Unicorn Frappuccino article.

Just so you don’t have to read the whole thing, here is what you need to know. The American Hearth Association (a reputable agency) recommends that:

  1. Men should not consume more than 36g of added sugar per day
  2. Women should not consumer than 24g of added sugar per day
  3. Children (18 and younger) should not be above 24g of added sugar per day*

*Younger kids should have less; based on % calorie allowance

Now, in my workshops, I show this slide:

Here is where you start to see how quickly the added sugars enter our lives. When I see this chart, I think about all the Coke/Pepsi/Dr. Pepper lovers out there, and think:

No one should ever finish an entire pop any day, ever

 One 12-oz Coke, puts you over the daily limit for men (39g>36g)

Transforming Rules Into Sugar Spending Budgets

Regardless of your opinion on the sources of health rules (government agencies, best friend), we need to follow some general guidelines because, as I mentioned earlier, science has taken us pretty far. Given the most basic rule about sugar consumption, these rules are “hard to follow” because sometimes tracking down how much added sugar is difficult, especially when labels are inaccurate  But, we have to start somewhere.

Now, we have our rule: I cannot consume more than 24/36g of added sugar per day,

Or, to put a positive spin on it…

I get to consume 24/36g of added sugar any way that I want to!

Great, no problem, but given the prevalence of sugar everywhere, we now need to address our eating habits during the REST of our day.

Spending Your Sugar Budget

So, you have your sugar budget. Let’s say you are female with a 24g/day budget.

(you are a good rule-follower and want to stay healthy right?)

What does your morning look like? Two teaspoons of sugar your coffee? Starting off with 8 grams right away. Now you are down to 16 grams.

…or if you order some sugary concoction (example: Unicorn Frappuccino; 59g), then you are on a sugar time-out for the next 2 ½ days!

You get to the office with 16 grams left…here comes the morning meeting.

A selection of orange juice and bagels. Oh boy, big decisions. You pass on both because you are still drinking your coffee. Big win here!

(An 8oz glass of orange juice has 22g of sugar!)

On to lunch, you ordered a “healthy” salad but didn’t notice the high sugar content (12g) in the “Fat-Free” vinaigrette. Down to 4 grams…

These are just the decisions up to lunch. Add in the afternoon snacks, and you may be well on your past the rule of:

No more than 24g of added sugar per day

A Sugar Budget Forces You To Plan Your Sugar Consumption

If you are a soda drinker, no problem..if that’s the only added sugar in your diet. Drinking a pop every day may be a problem when the rest of your diet is filled with extra sugar as well (dessert multiple times per week, syrup on pancakes). Again, it just may not be in your best interest to drink an entire 12 oz. can every day.

And you can throw some basic math at it…

A regular can of Coke has 39g of sugar. If you are a male, then you can only drink 90% of it or 11 oz. Maybe that’s why Coke started making those small little 8 oz. cans, to keep you under the guidelines. I am not sure…my guess is for convenience and other sales and marketing strategies.

Many times when we want to apply new findings and information to our lives, it requires us to make a change, and replace our old behavior with a new behavior. Following any sugar or exercise rule means that you will need to shift your sugar habits, and how spend your leisure time. If you cannot sacrifice the sugar in the coffee, can you sacrifice the Coke at lunch? If you cannot get rid of the extra hour on the couch, will you really make it to the gym?

My role is not to lay down hard and fast rules for everyone to follow, but to make you think about how the other activities in your day will be affected.

What am I emphasizing here? Preferences.

We all have our vices and things we like to enjoy. Mine is craft beer. Has tons of carbohydrates in it!

Shout out to two of my favorites in Florida! Swamphead & IntraCoastal 

Let me repeat that…

I love craft beer!!!

Craft beer is my sugar of choice. I just try to be a little more mindful about the other added sugar that I might consume each day and week.

Using Your Preferences With Your Sugar Budget

You can think of it this way: Each day you get a sugar budget. How do you want to spend it? A beer tonight, but maybe a couple cookies tomorrow during lunch. Of course, it is best not to spend a week’s worth in a day or two.

Your choice.

Rules Go Beyond Sugar

While much of this blog described sugar consumption, this idea of following and making our own rules can apply to any health topic. You could build budgets related to sedentary activity. You get 8 hours of sitting each day, do you want to spend that time sitting at home or at work? You could build a budget related to working at a computer. You get 4 hours of quality work (no Facebook checking), and then you need to work the phones.

Budget As A Metaphor

Information is coming at us so fast each and every day. We gather information from here and there, related and unrelated to our health. Soon, we begin following a set of hodgepodge rules without even realizing it. Thinking about certain health issues through a budget metaphor may help us slow down a bit, plan intentional behavior throughout our day, leaving us satisfied with our day’s activities.

Spend your budget wisely.

Keep moving my friends,


By | 2017-07-06T18:13:51+00:00 July 6th, 2017|Behavior Analysis|0 Comments