The sweet stuff shouldn't be forbidden, even in a healthy cook's kitchen. Here's why.
Credit: Photo: Kelsey Hansen

Overindulge your sweet tooth and you up your chances of heart disease, tooth decay, and weight gain. Because sugar also stokes inflammation, it may spur other diseases. But sugar is critical in your cooking and baking—and we're not just referring to a perfectly caramelized crème brûlée. It gives you that delicious, deep browning in waffles, cookies, and cakes. It balances salty, sour, or acidic flavors in salad dressings, marinades, and sauces. It keeps breads and baked goods tender.  Eliminate all sugar from your diet, and your cooking and eating could trend toward blah. The key is to use it judiciously and in moderation.

There are two kinds of sugars, though. Added sugars are just that—sugars added to foods and drinks during processing and preparation. They're the problem children. Natural sugars are found in fruit (fructose) and dairy (lactose) and are A-OK for two reasons. One, it's hard to overdo it on sugar via fruit and dairy. (You just can't eat that much fruit and dairy.) Two, you get good-for-you vitamins, minerals, and fiber when you eat those foods.

So how much added sugar is OK to eat? The World Health Organization and USDA Dietary Guidelines say to limit added sugars to less than 10% of your daily calories. For an adult, that's 50g or 12 1/2 teaspoons. For kids, it's 25g or 6 1/4 teaspoons. One way to control your sugar intake is to get back in the kitchen: When you cook for yourself, you see how much sugar you're eating. Armed with this intel, you can make room for that bowl of ice cream.