It takes one and a half cans of Coca-Cola, or half of a Starbucks Venti white chocolate mocha, or three slices of an Anthony’s cheese pizza. It takes 12.5 teaspoons of added sugar to reach the maximum amount recommended a day by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

But based on an Euromonitor study, Americans consume more than 32 teaspoons per day, almost three times as much as the recommended amount. So what? It’s just a recommendation, right? According to Dr. Robert Lustig, a professor of Clinical Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology at the University of California, the body can safely metabolize six teaspoons of added sugar. While this number can fluctuate between individuals, eating more sugar than the body can handle can cause the body to metabolize the excess sugar into body fat, as well as damage other organs.

The body reacts to too much added sugar like it reacts to alcohol. Both alcohol and added sugar are metabolized as substrates for converting carbohydrates into fat, which in turn causes abnormal fat levels in the blood, weight gain, and increased insulin resistance. As well as metabolic dysfunction and obesity, excessive added sugar has been known to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and polycystic ovarian syndrome. A study done in 2016 also found that added sugars support cell division and growth of breast, esophagus, lung, and small intestine cancer cells.

To avoid these consequences, added sugars should be avoided. On ingredient labels, sugars that have been added into processed or prepared foods can be called anhydrous dextrose, high-fructose corn syrup, maltose, lactose, or sucrose.

Replacing added sugars in your diet with healthier natural sugars can drastically cut down your intake of harmful sugars. When cooking, replace sugars with almond, vanilla, lemon, or orange extract, and instead of enhancing flavors with sugar, use spices like ginger, cinnamon, or nutmeg. In place of extra sugar on cereal, oatmeal, or in sweetened yogurt, add fresh or dried fruits to get the same sweetening effect, but in a more natural and healthier way.

As is the case with all foods, natural sugars are better for you, but eating too much can have the same effect on the body as added sugars. In the end, it’s best to just have a balanced diet that’s healthy for your age, gender, weight, and activity level that includes sugars from all food groups: fruits, vegetables, proteins, dairy, and grains.

Story by Katie Baker