By Vanessa Voltolina
You’ve seen the news, read the headlines and had that particularly health-conscious friend tell you that you eat too much sugar — all while you’re daydreaming about that delicious venti coffee and whipped cream drink that you plan to enjoy later.
Even if you’re not one of the 65 percent of Americans who are overweight or obese, you still need to watch your sugar intake. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that only six to 10 percent of our daily calories should come from sugar. “That equals 120 to 200 calories and 30 to 50 grams per day for a 2,000 calorie diet, respectively,” says Jenny Champion, a certified diabetes educator in New York City. But research suggests that, in actuality, added sugars make up around 13 percent of the American adult’s total intake. (Holy schnikes, Batman!) It matters, ultimately, because excess sugars convert to fat. That’s not only a bummer in the weight-maintenance department; it may also lead to a fatty liver disease (a leading cause of liver transplants) and inflammation, which ups the risk for heart disease.
Experts say that the worst culprits when it comes to added sugar are sugary sodas, juices and energy drinks. “The number-one food source are grain-based desserts,” says Joan Salge Blake, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and author of Nutrition & You. (Think: Processed foods, such as cookies, cakes, pies and cupcakes.)
According to Champion, however, there’s a less-expected source. “The most popular — and surprisingly sugar-laden — food?” she says. “It’s that wolf in sheep’s clothing the fruit smoothie. If you buy one of these treats at a smoothie stand or milkshake joint, you’ll end up taking in upwards of 50 grams of sugar and maxing out your daily sugar allotment.”
Convinced to reduce your sugar intake, at least a little bit? Here’s where to begin:
Sugar is everywhere, and it’s sneaky. The added sweeteners found in processed foods have become such an issue that the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services updated the official Dietary Guidelines for 2015-2020 to cap how much we should consume every day.
The goal? Making added sugar no more than 10% of your total daily calories in order to prevent major health problems, including heart disease and diabetes. On a 2,000 calorie diet, that’s 50 grams (or 12 teaspoons) per day, but calorie needs vary individually. If 50 grams already sounded strict to you, the American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 24 grams of added sugar per day, and men stay under 36 grams added sugar per day.
Note that this does not include the naturally occurring sugars in fruit, vegetables, and dairy products, which groups like the World Health Organization (WHO) say are less of a health issue. But how are we supposed to tell the difference between added and natural sugars? Luckily, newly designed nutrition labels will be a huge help. Added sugars and total sugar will be listed on all labels by 2021, so it will be much easier to spot foods packed with the sweet stuff.
Until then, check ingredients lists for sugar and its many aliases: fruit juice concentrate, agave nectar, evaporated cane juice, corn syrup, caramel, maltose, maple syrup, dextrose, tapioca, glucose syrups, confectioners sugar, barley malt, molasses, turbinado sugar, galactose, and treacle.
“Ultimately, you can 100% eat dessert every day if you cut out the sneaky sources of added sugar in your diet,” says Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN, Nutrition Director at the Good Housekeeping Institute. “Check labels religiously, but on the whole, sauces, condiments, dairy products, breads, crackers, and beverages are some places you might not expect to find sugar.”
To give you a better idea of what 50 grams of total sugar in a day look like, we put together a full menu that stays under the limit that’s still totally nom-worthy.
- How Much Added Sugar Should You Limit Yourself to a Day?
- How much sugar a day you can eat
- Wait, what about natural sugars?
- How to cut back on added sugars
- Sugars intake for adults and children
- Publication details
- Related links
- More information
- What are the health consequences of eating too much sugar?
- So what is the recommended daily intake of sugar?
- Is this including “natural” sugars from fruits, compared to added sugars?
- When reading food labels, how many grams of sugar should we be aiming for per serving?
- What are the biggest mistakes people are making when it comes to sugar?
- Sugar intake break down
- How to cut down on the sweet stuff
- The Fix
- How Many Grams of Sugar Per Day Should You Consume?
- How Many Grams of Sugar per Day? Sugar Consumption in the U.S.
- How Many Grams of Sugar per Day: Can You Have Too Little Sugar? Dangers of Low Sugar
- How Many Grams of Sugar per Day: High Sugar and Hidden Sugar Foods
- How Many Grams of Sugar per Day: How to Reduce Sugar Intake
- How does the body react to so much sugar?
- AHA Sugar Recommendation
- I Tried to Eat Only 25 Grams of Sugar a Day, Here’s What I Learned
- How much sugar should you eat per day?
- Tips to reduce the amount of sugar you eat daily
How Much Added Sugar Should You Limit Yourself to a Day?
More and more people are becoming aware that limiting sugar intake is important for sustaining overall health. Thankfully, keeping track of our sugar consumption is getting easier than ever due to new food labeling guidelines.
As public awareness grows, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking steps to empower consumers to better monitor their sugar intake. The organization has declared that all food companies must include a label for added sugars by 2020.
While more detailed food labeling can help people know how much added sugar they’re consuming, this label is only as useful as people’s understanding of what it means. So let’s make sure we’re all on the same page.
Here’s an overview of what added sugar is, the downsides of eating too much sugar, and what a healthy limit for added sugar might look like.
What is added sugar?
“Added sugar is sugar that is not naturally occurring in a food, but is added during its production and processing to enhance flavor and texture,” Lisa Samuels, RD, founder of The Happie House, says.
Canned fruit is a classic example of added sugar, Toby Smithson, MS, RDN, LD, CDE, founder of DiabetesEveryDay.com and author of Diabetes Meal Planning and Nutrition for Dummies, says. A plain peach wouldn’t contain any added sugars, though it does contain sugar. But if you take that same peach and store it in syrup, that food product would contain added sugars within the syrup.
Per Smithson, other common foods that contain added sugar include:
- Fruit juices
- Soft drinks
- Energy drinks
- Sweets such as candy, cakes, and cookies
Are added sugars unhealthy?
Just because added sugars are distinguished from naturally occurring sugars on a nutrition label, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re “unnatural.”
“A lot of added sugars come from natural sources,” Maxine Yeung, MS, RD, CPT, and founder of The Wellness Whisk, says.
Common sources of added sugar include:
- Agave syrup
- Brown sugar
- Cane sugar
- Corn syrup
“Even though some sugars, such as honey, occur naturally, they are consumed by adding it to other foods or beverages, and are therefore considered added sugars,” Yeung explains.
But when it comes to whether added sugars are healthy, it’s best to compare them to natural, whole food sources of sugar. Samuels explains that whole food sources of healthy sugar, like fruit, “also contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals , which gives them a greater nutritional value than foods with added sugar.”
And while foods with natural sugars are healthier than isolated added sugars, just because a food has added sugar doesn’t make it unhealthy; rather, it’s more important to look at the quantity of added sugar in a food.
What are the downsides of eating too much sugar?
No matter the source, too much of any kind of sugar can be bad for your health.
Yeung says that “The worry with added sugar in food and beverage items is that too much sugar in your diet can increase your risk for many medical complications, such as dental cavities, pre-diabetes, diabetes, and high cholesterol.”
Samuels points out that “sugar contains calories but little to no nutritional value; it contributes what we call ’empty calories’ to our diet. This means that it can cause us to gain weight without adding any nutritional value for our bodies. It also leaves less room for healthier foods in our diet.”
Per Samuels, sugar can also provoke inflammation and “increases the risk of developing certain chronic conditions such as heart disease, depression, kidney and liver disease, and certain cancers.”
Excess sugar consumption can be especially concerning for people with conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes. Smithson says too much sugar can raise triglyceride levels or increase the carbohydrate content in the diet of a person with diabetes.
How many grams of added sugar should you eat per day?
Okay, so eating too much added sugar isn’t good for you. But what qualifies as “too much” and what should your daily sugar intake be?
The answer may not be one-size-fits-all.
“The FDA and most recent dietary guidelines recommend that added sugars make up no more than 10% of your daily calories,” Yeung says. “This amount varies per person based on individual calorie needs.”
Yeung says that as a general rule, a person eating 2,000 calories per day should consume no more than 50 grams of added sugar daily. “For a person who needs calories, the maximum amount of added sugar is grams per day,” she says.
Examples of recommended sugar intake for different caloric diet are:
1,200 calories: 30 grams added sugar
1,500 calories: 37 grams added sugar
1,800 calories: 45 grams added sugar
2,000 calories: 50 grams added sugar
2,200 calories: 55 grams added sugar
2,500 calories: 62 grams added sugar
While the FDA’s recommendations are meant for the general public, these guidelines may be different for people with special health considerations.
For example, Smithson says, “AHA (American Heart Association) offers guidelines for people with heart disease.” Those guidelines set the recommended limit for added sugar at 25 grams per day.
Smithson says recommendations also vary for people with diabetes. “There may be times that they require added sugar,” she says.
The most practical daily added sugar intake?
If your head is starting to swim, Yeung offers some practical advice for folks without special health considerations: “I recommend trying to limit added sugar as best as you can by focusing on eating a diet primarily made up of whole foods and foods that have been minimally manipulated,” she says.
“You do not need to avoid all added sugar, and it’s perfectly fine to enjoy a sweet sometimes,” Yeung adds.
RELATED: The easy guide to cutting back on sugar is finally here.
Why the recommended daily sugar intake isn’t best for everyone.
While aiming for a maximum of 50 grams of sugar per day is a decent guideline, less sugar is obviously better—50 grams isn’t something to shoot for; it’s a limit to stay well under.
“While the FDA makes sure food is safe for human consumption, they are also concerned with putting out products that taste good and have a normal mouthfeel, so they might allow for that extra bit of sugar to keep consumers happy,” Samuels says.
Carbs, including sugar, are the main energy source of the human diet. And while technically your body can function without any dietary carbs as long as you consume an adequate amount of protein and fat, your goal shouldn’t be to eliminate every scrap of sugar from your diet. Instead, it’s important to think about the food sources from which you obtain it.
“I recommend that most of the sugar you consume comes from foods that naturally contain it… where you also get additional nutrients,” Yeung says. “For instance, fresh or frozen fruit is a great way to sweeten up a dish; plus you get fiber, water, and various vitamins and minerals,” which gives whole food sources of sugar a greater nutritional value than just added sugar.
Some of the best sources of natural sugar to focus on for your daily sugar intake include:
Above all, Samuels stresses that it’s important to listen to your body. “It is difficult to tell… people exactly what to eat, because everyone’s bodies are different and they do not process things in the same way,” she says. “However, the less added sugar you include in your diet, the better.”
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Give me a bowl of strawberries, and I’m a happy camper. Even better if they’re covered in chocolate or whipped cream. With a rampant sweet tooth, thinking about how much sugar a day I consume admittedly makes my heart patter a bit faster.
It bears repeating that not all sugar is as evil as wellness influencers make it out to be, and attempting to cut it all out is not a great idea. Yet it is important to be mindful about how much of it you’re getting in a day. Too much sugar over time is connected to some serious health issues, like an increased risk of diabetes and potentially chronic inflammation in your body. In the short term, of course, too much sugar can spike your energy levels and then lead to a major crash later on (and increased anxiety in some).
So, what does our daily allowance of sugar look like? Here’s what experts have to say.
How much sugar a day you can eat
Here’s the thing: How much sugar one should be consuming somewhat depends on the type. There are broadly two types of sugars: natural sugars, which occurs naturally in fruit and other foods, and added sugar, which includes refined sugars found in many processed foods. (It also technically includes sugars one is adding to a food from natural sources—like stirring in honey instead of sugar into your coffee still counts as an added sugar!) Added sugars, experts say, are the ones people are at most risk of over-consuming.
“We have enough research at this point to support that added sugar isn’t going to be doing us any favors on its own,” says Jessica Cording, RD. She notes added sugars are on an equal footing, because they give you an elevated blood sugar response. “No matter which type of sweetener you’re consuming, a little goes a long way.”
A good rule of thumb: Keep added sugars to no more than 25 grams a day, or six teaspoons’ worth.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines state up to 10 percent of your daily calorie intake can come from added sugars. Cording considers that a bit too liberal, especially since that doesn’t account for natural sugars. Say you eat 2,000 calories a day. Based on these guidelines, you could consume around 50 grams of added sugar, or about 12 teaspoons. Instead, Cording favors the American Heart Association’s recommendation of limiting added sugars to 25 grams a day, or six teaspoons. “I feel comfortable saying consume as little added sugar as possible,” she says. “If numbers are helpful, I’d say 5 to 6 percent of your daily calorie intake is a good ballpark.”
Looking for a lower-sugar dessert that actually tastes delicious? Let me introduce you to these lemon bars:
Wait, what about natural sugars?
Unlike added sugars, there aren’t set guidelines about how much sugar you can consume that is naturally present in food. “It’s really easy to obsess over this, and get really confused and overwhelmed,” Cording says.
For most healthy people, it’s not necessary to fixate overmuch on how much natural sugar you’re eating if it’s coming from whole foods sources. (People with diabetes or other health conditions may have to be more mindful of their intake of all sugar sources and should work with their doctor to come up with a good dietary plan that fits their needs.) Foods with occurring sugars like fruit often also contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial nutrients to help balance out the impact of sugar on your system. They’re even better when eaten with sources of protein or fat to further level things out. “When we’re eating a balance of different macronutrients, it helps promote stable blood sugar, because we’re having a slower breakdown of those naturally present sugars,” Cording says. With a slower rate of digestion, you can better avoid the crashes and mood swings, and stay satiated longer.
Still scratching your head over what this actually looks like? Imagine your lunch or dinner plate. Cording suggests filling half of the plate with non-starchy vegetables, a quarter with your choice of protein, and the last quarter can be food with natural sugars. For a quick snack example, pair a piece of fruit with nut butter or tahini for added fat and protein.
How to cut back on added sugars
Although sugar pokes its way into countless foods, cutting back to that 25 grams recommendation doesn’t have to feel daunting—and you don’t have to meticulously count grams. First, Cording suggests getting clarity on your relationship with added sugar. “Understanding where it’s coming from is going to help you figure out which approach will work for you when you’re trying to reduce your sugar intake,” she says. Rather than going cold turkey, Cording suggests making small lifestyle tweaks to cut back on your intake, like opting for plain yogurt instead of the flavored stuff or leaving sugary sauces and condiments on the grocery shelves. It’s also a good idea to get smart about reading labels and seeing how much sugar is in a serving of your favorite foods (and how much of that is added sugar). With a little extra diligence, you can still have a pretty sweet life without relying too much on added sugar.
I swear I’m not overstating it when I say you won’t miss the refined sugar in these brownies. And if you have more common nutrition questions, these dietitians have the answers.
Sugars intake for adults and children
World Health Organization
Number of pages: 49
Publication date: 2015
Languages: English, Farsi, Executive summary published in Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian, Spanish
ISBN: 978 92 4 154902 8
WHO reference number: WHO/NMH/NHD/15.2 (Executive summary)
Executive summary available in:
Information note available in:
This guideline provides updated global, evidence-informed recommendations on the intake of free sugars to reduce the risk of NCDs in adults and children, with a particular focus on the prevention and control of unhealthy weight gain and dental caries.
The recommendations in this guideline can be used by policy-makers and programme managers to assess current intake levels of free sugars in their countries relative to a benchmark. They can also be used to develop measures to decrease intake of free sugars, where necessary, through a range of public health interventions. Examples of such interventions and measures that are already being implemented by countries include food and nutrition labelling, consumer education, regulation of marketing of food and non-alcoholic beverages that are high in free sugars, and fiscal policies targeting foods and beverages that are high in free sugars.
This guideline should be used in conjunction with other nutrient guidelines and dietary goals, in particular those related to fats and fatty acids (including saturated fatty acids and trans-fatty acids), to guide development of effective public health nutrition policies and programmes to promote a healthy diet.
- Read the press release on sugar
- WHO NUGAG Diet and Health subgroup
- Guideline Development Tracking Tool
The World Health Organization is dropping its sugar intake recommendations from 10 percent of your daily calorie intake to 5 percent.
For an adult of a normal body mass index (BMI), that works out to about 6 teaspoons — or 25 grams — of sugar per day.
Many people don’t realize much of the sugar they take in are “hidden” in processed foods, according to WHO. A can of soda may contain up to 10 teaspoons or 40 grams of sugar. A tablespoon of ketchup has 1 teaspoon of sugar.
Nutrition fact labels to get makeover from FDA The Food and Drug Administration and the White House hopes to make Americans more knowledgeable about how much added sugar they are taking in by updating the Nutrition Facts Labels to include total and added sugars.
The WHO’s recommendation applies to sugars including glucose, fructose mad sucrose (table sugar) that are added to food by cooks and manufacturers, and occur naturally in fruits, honey and syrups.
The WHO’s draft guidelines were released March 5. They were opened up for public comment through March 31, 2014.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting sugar intake to no more than half of your daily discretionary calorie allowance: No more than 100 calories per day for women (about 6 teaspoons) and no more than 150 calories per day for men (9 teaspoons).
Studies show that people who consume many foods and drinks with added sugars tend to consume more calories than people who don’t eat much of these foods, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Cutting back could help you maintain a healthy weight, and reduce risk for diabetes, heart disease, and other obesity-related health problems.
We’ve asked Accredited Practicing Dietitian, Chloe McLeod, to explain the basics about this demonised ingredient.
What are the health consequences of eating too much sugar?
Weight gain, especially fat gain around the mid section, elevated blood sugar levels, overproduction of insulin, which can all lead to development of diabetes and other health conditions. Also, it is not good for our teeth.
RELATED: 6 Reasons To Ditch Processed Sugar ASAP
So what is the recommended daily intake of sugar?
WHO guidelines recommend adults and children reduce their daily intake of free sugars to less than 10 per cent of their total energy intake. A further reduction to below 5 per cent or roughly 25 grams (six teaspoons) per day would provide additional health benefits
Is this including “natural” sugars from fruits, compared to added sugars?
Naturally occurring sugar, found in fruit and milk in particular, are not included. Sugar from fruit juice, other sugar sweetened beverages, and sugar found in honey and sweet syrups, along with any added sugar is included.
When reading food labels, how many grams of sugar should we be aiming for per serving?
Less than 1 tsp (~5g) per serve.
What are the biggest mistakes people are making when it comes to sugar?
Thinking they cant have ‘any’ and that ‘all’ sugar is evil Eating an apple or banana is not the same as eating a chocolate bar or a bag of lollies.
RELATED: Everything You Need To Know About Sweeteners
We seem to be hearing about the amount of sugar hiding in our ‘healthy’ diets on a near-daily basis.
Only this morning, we heard how loads of fruity yoghurts actually contain a child’s entire recommended daily sugar intake.
We all know that we shouldn’t gorge on the stuff, but how much exactly should we be consuming, and how much is enough to put us at risk from tooth decay and obesity?
Glucose, sucrose, maltose, corn syrup, hydrolysed starch, invert sugar, fructose, and molasses – they all mean the same thing: sugar.
The NHS says added sugars shouldn’t make up more than 5% of the energy (calorie intake) you get from food and drink each day. That’s about 30g of sugar a day for those aged 11 and over. That’s the equivalent of 7.5 teaspoons.
Sugar intake break down
- Adults should have no more than 30g of free sugars a day, (roughly equivalent to seven sugar cubes).
- Children aged 7 to 10 should have no more than 24g of free sugars a day (six sugar cubes).
- Children aged 4 to 6 should have no more than 19g of free sugars a day (five sugar cubes).
- There is no guideline limit for children under the age of 4, but it’s recommended they avoid sugar-sweetened drinks and food with sugar added to it.
Fruit juice and honey can also count as added sugars, as they’re sometimes added to foods to make them sweeter.
Fruit juice is still a healthy choice (one 150ml serving counts towards your five a day). However, the sugars can damage your teeth, so it’s best to drink it with a meal and no more than one serving a day.
This is because sugars are released during the juicing process. Sugars in whole pieces of fruit are less likely to cause tooth decay because they are contained within the food.
Some fruits are higher in sugars than others, for example, bananas and pineapples. But they still make for better natural alternatives and are an important part of a healthy, balanced diet.
The recommended daily intake of sugars in popular foods (Picture: Wren Kitchens)
Sugar found naturally in milk, fruit and vegetables doesn’t count as free sugars. We don’t need to cut down on these, but you are advised to remember that they are included in the ‘total sugar’ figure found on food labels
You can check the ingredients content of any packaged goods or even ask if you want to understand just how much you’re consuming.
When looking at a label, the higher the sugar (or any other name it may be called) is, the more sugar it has.
Look for the ‘carbohydrates (of which sugars)’ figure on the nutrition label to see how much sugar the product contains for every 100g. If it’s more than 22.5g of total sugars per 100g, it’s too high. If it constitutes 5g of total sugars or less per 100g, it’s too low.
If the amount of sugars per 100g is between these figures, it’s a medium level of sugars.
How to cut down on the sweet stuff
- For drinks, you can opt for unsweetened, lower-fat milk, diet or no-added-sugar versions. If you’re generous with the spoons of sugar in your tea or coffee, slowly cut it down till you can drink it without any of the sweet stuff, if that’s something you’re willing to do.
- Water is always a good replacement for any drink. There’s nothing it can’t do.
- For food, try a lower-fat spread, reduced-sugar jam or fruit spread, sliced banana or lower-fat cream cheese instead of the usual Nutella or peanut butter.
- Use fruits to food to make it sweeter, i.e in your cereal.
- Choose tins of fruit in juice rather than syrup.
There are many apps too, like Change4life which can monitor you or your children’s dietary habits.
MORE: Artificial sweeteners may contribute to diabetes
MORE: Vegetarian diet is found to be just as effective for weight loss as mediterranean eating
MORE: How to make ice cream at home
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Original photo: Creative Commons/mroach WHO experts say that cutting down on our daily sugar consumption to the 5 percent level would help reduce obesity and tooth decay.
We should try to limit our daily consumption of sugar to no more than 5 percent of our total calories, but if we can’t do that, we should definitely keep it below 10 percent, according to new draft guidelines published Wednesday by the World Health Organization (WHO).
That 5 percent figure is half of what WHO recommended in 2002. And it’s much less than the 13 percent of daily calories that the average American currently gets from sugar.
WHO experts say that cutting down on our daily sugar consumption to the 5 percent level would help reduce obesity and tooth decay. They base their new recommendation on the findings of two large scientific studies, which were commissioned by the agency and published recently in BMJ and the Journal of Dental Research.
What 5 percent means
For an adult within the normal body-mass-index range, 5 percent of total daily calories would be about 25 grams — or six teaspoons — of sugar.
By sugar, WHO means all forms that are added to food (such as dextrose, glucose and fructose), as well as table sugar (sucrose) and the sugar naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit concentrates.
Sugar that occurs naturally in whole fruit, however, does not count toward the 25 grams. Health experts point out that the sugar in whole fruit is not associated with any adverse health effects, primarily because of how the fiber in the fruit slows down the body’s absorption of the sugar.
Of course, much, if not most, of the sugar consumed by Americans comes from processed foods. For example, a 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola contains 35 grams of sugar and a 6-ounce container of Yoplait strawberry yogurt contains 27 grams. Sugar is also “hidden” in breads (yes, even whole-wheat ones), ketchup, tomato sauces, salad dressings and much, much more.
For most people, getting to 25 grams is pretty easy.
A public health priority
But, as the accumulating research is making very clear, cutting back on sugar needs to be a public health priority — and for reasons that go beyond obesity and tooth decay. The health hazards presented by the overconsumption of added sugar is not just a matter, as we’ve been told for decades, of too many “empty calories.” Recent research has identified added sugar as a potential independent risk factor for a variety of chronic diseases, including high blood pressure, diabetes, liver cirrhosis, dementia and heart disease.
As Laura Schmidt, professor of health policy at the University of California, San Francisco, wrote recently: “Too much sugar does not just make us fat; it can also make us sick.”
Just this past February, a study led by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that consuming foods and beverages with added sugar is associated with a 20 percent increased risk of death from heart disease — even after adjusting for body weight and obesity.
In other words, people in the study with a BMI in the normal range but who consumed a lot of added sugar were at an increased risk of dying from heart disease, as were those who were overweight or obese.
The American Heart Association currently recommends no more than 6 teaspoons (100 calories) of sugar a day for women and no more than 9 teaspoons (150 calories) a day for men.
WHO’s draft guidelines on sugar consumption are open for public comment until March 31.
Sugar has gotten a bad rap and for good reason. It’s in almost every packaged food you pick up at the grocery store, and there seems to be quite a sugar addiction epidemic in the United States. If you don’t see the word “sugar” in the ingredients list, there is likely another form of it that you simply do not recognize. Given what we know about sugar intake and the health problems the wrong amount can cause, how many grams of sugar per day should we consume?
It seems our taste buds have adapted to the desire to crave sugar, and if our food has not been sweetened with it, it doesn’t taste nearly as good to many people. There is an upside here: Taste buds can adapt so you don’t crave all that sugar, but how? Read on to learn all about how to reduce sugar, along with with how many grams of sugar per day you should actual consume for optimal health.
How Many Grams of Sugar Per Day Should You Consume?
The American Heart Association recommends most American women eat to no more than 100 calories per day of sugar (six teaspoons or 20 grams) and no more than 150 calories per day for men (or about nine teaspoons or 36 grams). (1)
To put that into perspective, one teaspoon is equal to four grams of sugar. An eight-ounce glass of orange juice has 5.5 teaspoons of sugar. That’s equal to over 20 grams. That’s why you want to eat your fruit; don’t drink it. Another option is to cut the juice by using half water and half juice, while drinking a total of four to six ounces — not eight to 12. And keep in mind that most bottled juices and beverages contain two servings per individual bottle. Don’t ignore the label.
Let’s not forget about the kids. How many grams of sugar per day should they consume? Children do not need so much sugar, yet it’s in everything. Sugar consumption for children should not go beyond three teaspoons of sugar per day, which equates to 12 grams. Did you know that one cup of Fruit Loops contains 3.75 teaspoons of sugar? That’s over the recommended amount for kids. Now you know why most cereals are not the best choice for anyone.
You now have a sense of just how much sugar per day you should consume, but how do you track your sugar intake? The best way is to keep a journal. There are lots of online trackers you can use, and they’re especially helpful in cases when there is no nutritional information on the label or in the case of whole foods, such as fresh fruit.
How Many Grams of Sugar per Day? Sugar Consumption in the U.S.
Let’s delve into what sugar is all about and just how much sugar is too much. According to the American Heart Association, there are two types of sugars found in our diets. There are those that are truly natural that come from foods like fruit and vegetables, and there are added sugars and artificial sweeteners, such as those little blue, yellow and pink packets (a BIG no-no) found at the coffee stand; white sugar; brown sugar; and even chemically manufactured sugars like high fructose corn syrup. These added sugars are ingredients that are in foods like soft drinks, fruit drinks, candy, cakes, cookies, ice cream, sweetened yogurt, and grains like waffles, many breads and cereals. (2)
Some common names for added sugars or foods with added sugars are:
- Brown sugar
- Corn sweetener
- Corn syrup
- Fruit juice concentrates
- High fructose corn syrup
- Invert sugar
- Malt sugar
- Raw sugar
- Sugar molecules ending in “ose” (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose)
Now that you have a good idea about added sugars, what about those naturally occurring ones from fruit? Do they count? Well, sort of. Yes, those are better choices, but some foods are high in sugar so you still want to keep that in check if you’re diabetic or suffer from some sugar sensitive diseases.
It’s better to have the whole fruit, but choosing the right fruit is important. A medium-sized orange contains about 12 grams of natural sugar. A cup of strawberries contains about half that. Dried fruit and whole fruit contain about the same, calorie and sugar wise, but you lose a lot of hydration benefits due to the loss of water during the dehydration process. (4)
Some foods are simply lower in sugar content so if watching your waistline is a key factor, where your sugar comes from may make a difference. However, both the orange and strawberries are low in calories and nutrient-dense, containing three grams of fiber, 100 percent of the recommended daily consumption for vitamin C, folic acid, potassium and more. If you opt for that 20-ounce can of soda, here’s what you get instead: 225 calories, zero nutrients and 60 grams of added sugar, probably as high fructose corn syrup. Which one sounds more appealing? The soda or the strawberries?
Regardless, having sugar from real food is the way to go since it contains fructose, which is great for energy. When sugar has been extracted from foods, you’re left with zero fiber and the nutrient density is greatly depleted. Go for the real thing — and no that’s not Coca-Cola. (5, 6)
The Obesity Society reports that sugar consumption has increased by more than 30 percent over the past three decades. In 1977 sugar consumption averaged about 228 calories per day but jumped to 300 calories in 2009–2010, and it may be higher now with children consuming even more. These added sugars, which are placed in sauces, breads and pastas, in addition to excessive amounts in sweets, beverages and cereals, put unnecessary calories into the diet and cause inflammation, disease and more. While it may increase energy briefly, it greatly reduces much-needed nutrients.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has some more stats on how much sugar Americans consume: (8)
- From 2011-14, U.S. youth consumed 143 calories and adults consumed 145 calories from sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs).
- SSB intake higher among boys, adolescents, non-Hispanic blacks or youth living in low-income families among youths.
- Among adults, SSB intake is higher among males, young adults, non-Hispanic blacks or Mexican American, or low-income adults.
How Many Grams of Sugar per Day: Can You Have Too Little Sugar? Dangers of Low Sugar
Low sugar can result in a good bit of discomfort, especially if you suffer from diabetes. Low blood glucose, also known as hypoglycemia, is one of the most common problems associated with low blood sugar and is defined as a blood glucose level below 70 mg/dl. Often, it’s associated with medicine, not enough food or not eating for long periods of time, too much activity, and sometimes alcohol. (9, 10)
Symptoms may include feeling shaky, sweaty and having a racing heart. It’s usually mild, but severe hypoglycemia may develop into mental confusion, antagonistic behaviors, unconsciousness or seizures.
Low blood sugar can affect anyone, and checking it regularly may be a way to monitor it. The frequency of testing varies, but most people who have diabetes test their blood sugar levels before breakfast, lunch, dinner and again before bed. Seeing a doctor is important if you suspect you have problems with low blood sugar. Your physician can help your body get to and maintain normal blood sugar levels. (11)
Dangers of High Sugar
While not having enough sugar can cause hypoglycemia, on the flip side, you can have too much sugar. That’s called hyperglycemia and may cause serious complications, such as: (12)
- Cardiovascular disease
- Nerve damage known as neuropathy
- Kidney damage
- Diabetic neuropathy
- Damage to the blood vessels of the retina, diabetic retinopathy, which could cause blindness
- Cataracts or clouding in the eyes
- Problems with the feet caused by damaged nerves or poor blood flow
- Bone and joint problems
- Skin problems, including bacterial infections, fungal infections and non-healing wounds
- Infections in the teeth and gums
- Diabetic ketoacidosis
- Hyperglycemic hyperosmolar syndrome
There are more dangers of high sugar as well, which is why it’s vital to know how many grams of sugar per day you should consume.
1. Too Much Sugar May Cause Heart Problems
The JAMA reports that, in some cases, nearly one third of calories consumed per day come from sugar. Boy, is that a lot of sugar! The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey gathered information that helped identify issues with too much sugar. The results indicate that most U.S. adults consume more added sugar than is recommended for a healthy diet, resulting in a higher risk cardiovascular disease mortality. (13)
2. Sugar Can Cause Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome
Diabetes is probably one of the most common problems with excessive sugar and is happening at staggering rates across the United States and beyond due to dietary changes, such as more processed foods, refined sugars and less daily activity. When we consume too much sugar, the liver does all it can to convert the sugar into energy, but it can only do so much. Since it cannot metabolize all sugar that it receives if in excess, it then develops an insulin resistance, which can result in metabolic syndrome. (14)
3. Too Much Sugar Can Affect Your Teeth
Yes, it’s true that too much sugar can cause you to make a lot of trips to the dentist office. According to the American Dietetic Association and the Surgeon General’s report Oral Health in America, what you eat greatly affects your mouth — teeth and gums included. Too much sugar can cause bacterial growth, resulting in decay and infections of surrounding tissues and bone. (15)
4. Sugar May Hurt Your Liver
A diet high in sugar may cause problems with your liver, according to the American Diabetes Association. (16) How it works is that when you eat a moderate amount of sugar, in any form, it’s stored in the liver as glucose until the body needs it for various organs to function properly, such as the brain. But if you have too much, the liver simply cannot store it all. What happens? The liver is overloaded so it turns the sugar into fat.
While sugar from natural sources, such as fruit, is far better than the fake, processed version, the liver doesn’t quite know the difference. Additionally, a condition known as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease may be caused by excessive consumption of soft drinks, which develops insulin resistance and increased oxidative stress to the liver. On the other hand, if the body does not get enough sugar, it will use fat to supply energy. This is known as ketosis. (17, 18)
5. Sugar May Cause Cancer
Yes, it’s true that sugar can cause cancer. Studies show that obesity may be linked to death from most cancers due to what’s known as the insulin/insulin-like growth factor system and may enhance tumor cell growth. As well, metabolic syndrome, in association with chronic inflammation, may cause tumor growth and progression.
According to a study published in Integrative Cancer Therapies, there is a link between insulin and its effects on colon, prostate, pancreatic and breast cancer. It seems that sugar can even get in the way of cancer therapy, causing it to be less effective. By consuming more nutrients and less sugar, regularly exercising, and reducing stress, it’s possible to lower the risk of cancer and developing tumors. (19)
On the plus side, the right sugar and right amount of it may help athletes. While we know that carbs, such as bananas, can help aid in both performance and recovery of athletes, it seems that there is a smarter way to ensure performance and recovery.
Research indicates that some forms of sugar are better than others. Subjects were evaluated after a 90-minute swim or a 24-hour period of fasting. The results showed that fructose is not the best choice for replenishing, but by using both glucose and fructose, glycogen is more rapidly restored in the liver, which can help repair overworked muscles and lead an athlete to being more prepared for the next workout. (20)
How Many Grams of Sugar per Day: High Sugar and Hidden Sugar Foods
Some foods are obvious sugar loads, but many foods may not be so obvious. If you want to know which foods have hidden sugar, read the labels. And, as always, eating real food in its original form, such as a piece of fruit instead of fruit juice, is better.
High Sugar Foods:
- Sports drinks, sodas
- Chocolate milk
- Cakes, pies and doughnuts, pastries
- Flavored coffees
- Iced tea
- Granola bars
- Protein bars/energy bars
- Ketchup, BBQ sauce and other sauces
- Spaghetti sauce
- Frozen dinners
- Dried fruits
- Fruit juices and other beverages, such as Vitamin Water
- Canned fruits
- Canned baked beans
- Energy drinks
How Many Grams of Sugar per Day: How to Reduce Sugar Intake
Reducing sugar intake is not as hard as you think, but if you’re addicted, it can take some practice and commitment just like any change. The American Heart Association shares some great tips on how to reduce sugar. Put these ideas into practice on a regular basis, and in no time, you will reduce sugar and reduce your risk of diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome and obesity. (21)
- Remove sugar, syrup, honey and molasses from your cupboard and table.
- If you use sugar in your coffee, tea, cereal, pancakes, etc., cut back. Use half the amount you usually use to start and even less over time. And no artificial sweeteners!
- Drink water instead of flavored beverages and juices.
- Buy fresh fruits instead of fruits that are canned, especially those in syrups.
- Instead of adding sugar to your morning cereal, use fresh bananas or berries.
- When baking, cut the sugar by one third. Just try it! You probably won’t even notice.
- Try using spices, such as ginger, cinnamon or nutmeg, instead of sugar.
- Try unsweetened applesauce instead of sugar in recipes.
- Consider pure stevia, but use in moderation. It’s very sweet, so you don’t need much.
As noted above, if you’re diabetic or have any symptoms that suggest you are diabetic, have a heart problem, cancer or any disease, make an appointment with your doctor right away. Sugar, among other things, can make matters worse. Getting the proper diagnosis and then consuming a diet rich in nutrients and less sugar can offer amazing benefits to your health.
Additionally, sugar can cause liver problems and obesity. Your doctor and a nutrition expert can help you make positive changes in your diet by limiting sugar and adding nutrient-rich foods.
Sugar is in everything so buyer beware, but how many grams of sugar per day should you eat? It can be avoided simply by making the right choices. Most foods do not need sugar to taste good. Take the time to learn how to cook without it.
Cooking at home can help reduce sugar consumption. Find recipes, such as those on my website, that contain little or no sugar. While it may seem awkward at first, if you stick to it, it becomes easy and you will be come a sugar-identifying expert.
As far as how many grams of sugar per day you should consume, the American Heart Association recommends most American women eat to no more than 100 calories per day of sugar (six teaspoons or 20 grams) and no more than 150 calories per day for men (or about nine teaspoons or 36 grams). And overall, added sugar should be less than 10 percent of your diet.
How many grams of sugar per day do you consume?
Read Next: Is Sugar Bad for You? Here’s How It Destroys Your Body
Your body doesn’t need to get any carbohydrate from added sugar. That’s why the Healthy Eating Pyramid says sugary drinks and sweets should be used sparingly, if at all, and the Healthy Eating Plate does not include foods with added sugars.
The average American consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day, which amounts to an extra 350 calories. (27) While we sometimes add sugar to food ourselves, most added sugar comes from processed and prepared foods. Sugar-sweetened beverages and breakfast cereals are two of the most serious offenders.
The American Heart Association (AHA) has recommended that Americans drastically cut back on added sugar to help slow the obesity and heart disease epidemics. (27)
- The AHA suggests an added-sugar limit of no more than 100 calories per day (about 6 teaspoons or 24 grams of sugar) for most women and no more than 150 calories per day (about 9 teaspoons or 36 grams of sugar) for most men.
- There’s no nutritional need or benefit that comes from eating added sugar. A good rule of thumb is to avoid products that have a lot of added sugar, including skipping foods that list “sugar” as the first or second ingredient. However, the growing use of alternative sweeteners can make it difficult to determine which ingredients count as sugar, because there are multiple sources of sugar with different names.
By law, The Nutrition Facts Label must list the grams of sugar in each product. But some foods naturally contain sugar, while others get theirs from added sweeteners.
Soft drinks are a prime source of extra calories that can contribute to weight gain and provide no nutritional benefits. Studies indicate that liquid carbohydrates such as sugar-sweetened beverages are less filling than the solid forms (28)– causing people to continue to feel hungry after drinking them despite their high caloric value. They are coming under scrutiny for their contributions to the development of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic conditions.
- The average can of sugar-sweetened soda or fruit punch provides about 150 calories, almost all of them from sugar – usually high-fructose corn syrup. That’s the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of table sugar.
- If you were to drink just one can of a sugar-sweetened soft drink every day, and not cut back on calories elsewhere, you could gain up to 15 pounds over three years. (31)
Cereals and other foods
Choosing whole, unprocessed breakfast foods – such as an apple, or a bowl of steel-cut or old fashioned oatmeal – that don’t have lengthy ingredient lists is a great way to avoid eating added sugars. Unfortunately, many common breakfast foods such as ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, cereal bars, instant oatmeal with added flavoring, and pastries can contain high amounts of added sugars.
Some ingredient lists mask the amount of sugar in a product. To avoid having “sugar” as the first ingredient, food manufacturers may use multiple forms of sugar– each with a different name – and list each one individually on the nutrient label. By using this tactic, sugars are represented separately in smaller amounts, which makes it more difficult for consumers to determine how much overall sugar is in a product.
- So don’t be fooled – your body metabolizes all added sugars the same way; it doesn’t distinguish between “brown sugar” and “honey.” When reading a label, make sure you spot all sources of added sugars even if they’re not listed as the first few ingredients.
Sweet treats can be enjoyed in moderation, but make sure you’re aware of added sugars elsewhere in your diet, such as breads, drinks and cereals.
Industry-sponsored labeling programs can also be confusing. One such program, called Smart Choices, drew scrutiny from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2009 for calling one popular cereal —which is 41 percent sugar—a “Smart Choice.” (The Smart Choices program has since been suspended.)
How to spot added sugar on food labels
Spotting added sugar on food labels can require some detective work. Historically, food and beverage manufacturers in the U.S. have been required to list a product’s total amount of sugar per serving on the Nutrition Facts Panel, but they didn’t need to disclose how much of that sugar is added versus naturally occurring. However, this is set to change with the rollout of the updated Panel, which (by 2020 or 2021) will include a line disclosing “added sugars,” along with a corresponding 10 percent-Daily Value—representing a limit of 50 grams (roughly 12 teaspoons) of added sugar towards the daily 2,000 calories recommended for most adults. In the meantime, you’ll need to scan the ingredients list of a food or drink to find the added sugar. (29)
- Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight (30), so where sugar is listed in relation to other ingredients can indicate how much sugar a particular food contains.
- Added sugars go by many different names, yet they are all a source of extra calories.
Food makers can also use sweeteners that aren’t technically sugar—a term which is applied only to table sugar, or sucrose—but these other sweeteners are in fact forms of added sugar. Below are some other names for sugar that you may see on food labels:
|Agave nectar||Evaporated cane juice||Malt syrup|
|Brown sugar||Fructose||Maple syrup|
|Cane crystals||Fruit juice concentrates||Molasses|
|Cane sugar||Glucose||Raw sugar|
|Corn sweetener||High-fructose corn syrup||Sucrose|
|Crystalline fructose||Invert sugar|
27. Johnson RK, Appel LJ, Brands M, et al. Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2009;120:1011-20.
28. Pan A, Hu FB. Effects of carbohydrates on satiety: differences between liquid and solid food. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2011;14:385-90.
30. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 2008. A Food Labeling Guide: Chapter 4:Ingredient Lists. Accessed April 10, 2009.
31. Malik VS, Hu FB. Fructose and Cardiometabolic Health: What the Evidence From Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Tells Us. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2015 Oct 6;66(14):1615-24
The contents of this website are for educational purposes and are not intended to offer personal medical advice. You should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The Nutrition Source does not recommend or endorse any products.
As modern grocery shoppers, we try to be engaged and knowledgeable about nutrition. From salt to sugar, the movement is on to regain control of what we put on the table. But there’s a lot of confusing information to wade through. Studies show that 80% of shoppers come across conflicting nutritional data and 59% doubt the choices they’re making for their families. What consumers aren’t confused about, though, is the need for a healthy change.
American adults consume an average of 77 grams of sugar per day, more than 3 times the recommended amount for women. This adds up to around 60 pounds of added sugar annually – that’s six, 10-pound bowling balls, folks! The numbers are even worse for children. American kids consume 81 grams per day, equaling over 65 pounds of added sugar per year. Think of it this way – children are ingesting over 30 gallons of added sugars from beverages alone. That’s enough to fill a bathtub! Where’s all this added sugar coming from?
As we mentioned earlier, beverages are the leading category source of added sugars (47% of all added sugars):
- Soft drinks – 25%,
- fruit drinks – 11%,
- sport/energy drinks – 3% and
- coffee/tea – 7%
And, as you might guess, snacks and sweets are the next biggest contributor of added sugars at 31%.
How does the body react to so much sugar?
So, what’s a smart shopper to do? It’s tempting to look to alternative sugars as a magical solution. Products made with honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar or turbinado sugar, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, and dextrose, for example, are perceived as healthier choices. Don’t be fooled. Your body sure isn’t! Too much sugar is too much, no matter the source.
It all comes down to how fast the sugars get absorbed. For example, your body spends more time digesting an apple because of the fiber content, so the natural sugar absorbs more slowly. On the flip side, the added sugar in soda arrives all at once in your system like a sugar bomb. All that extra sugar gets converted to calories much more quickly. Not so good for your system!
If you’re looking for no calories, your best option might be a plant-based sweetener like stevia or monk fruit. These sweeteners are “generally recognized as safe” based on published research, a conclusion which has been reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
AHA Sugar Recommendation
To keep all of this in perspective, it’s helpful to remember the American Heart Association’s recommendations for sugar intake. Men should consume no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams or 150 calories) of added sugar per day. For women, the number is lower: 6 teaspoons (25 grams or 100 calories) per day. Consider that one 12-ounce can of soda contains 8 teaspoons (32 grams) of added sugar! There goes your whole day’s allotment in one slurp.
The good news is that the added-sugar message is breaking through, and many American adults crave a change. In fact, research suggests that 77 percent of Americans are striving for less sugar in their diets. And 7 in 10 consumers are willing to give up a favorite sugary product in favor of finding a healthier alternative. The willingness is there. For now, your best defense is education.
Food manufacturers are required to list the amount of added sugars on the Nutrition Facts label by mid 2021 or earlier depending on the size of the company. A recent analysis found that this labeling could potentially prevent nearly 1 million cases of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes over the next two decades. Listing the total amount of added sugars means that consumers will no longer have to search through the many different aliases for added sugars to try and determine how much added sugar a food or drink contains.
So, read those labels carefully and realize that added sugar is added sugar, no matter what sneaky alias it’s using!
I Tried to Eat Only 25 Grams of Sugar a Day, Here’s What I Learned
Sugar is so delicious, isn’t it? I mean, not straight up or anything, but mixed into things, like chocolate chips and chocolate cake and chocolate bars and…well, I guess you can tell I like chocolate.
It’s not just in things like baked goods and candy, though, it’s in tons of beverages, coffee drinks, tomato sauces, ketchup, yogurt, salad dressings, and more.
How much sugar should you eat per day?
In recent years the recommendation for total grams of added sugar had been lowered; the World Health Organization used to say that no more than 10% of your daily calories should come from it, and then they lowered it down to 5%. For most women, that means about 25 grams of sugar per day, which equals 6 teaspoons. (Guys get about 9 teaspoons. Lucky.)
Although I’m actually a big fan of fruits and veggies and whole grains and all that jazz, I do love me some baked goods. However, I am not a soda-drinker, and I don’t eat sweetened yogurts, so I thought keeping my intake to 25 grams or less per day would be pretty easy.
Tips to reduce the amount of sugar you eat daily
I don’t want to mislead you—it wasn’t torture and it wasn’t impossible, but it was a real challenge and I had to be super conscious of my choices all the time, which was honestly quite annoying. I did achieve my goal on most days, but certainly not all of them. If you’d like to keep your sugar intake low, too, here’s what I learned:
Never drink sweetened beverages
You probably already know this, but they add so many calories to your diet and, of course, to your sugar intake.
Watch out for condiments
I don’t eat ketchup all that often, but if I make home fries or sweet potato rounds, I like to dip them in ketchup, and the sugar in that little delicious red blob adds up quickly. It’s easy to think you’re just squirting out a serving when really you’ve got three or four on there. Which is why you should.
Let’s talk about maple syrup. I’m a New England girl, so we only buy the real stuff, and I freaking love it. However, I know it’s all sugar, and if I pour it on my waffle or pancake I’ll use way too much. Even if I put it in a dipping container to control my portion, if I don’t measure, it’s almost certain I’ll overestimate how much I’m about to consume. If you really want to stick to a limit, measuring will have to be part of your life.
Learn to love dark chocolate
One of the things that helped get me through the month with my sanity intact was 85% dark chocolate bars by Lindt. I know that’s too strong for some people, but a one-ounce serving only has 2.5 grams of sugar. Which means I can eat 10 oz of chocolate a day, right? Right?
Either give up baked goods or make your own low or lower sugar versions
It stinks, but you can’t just go to a restaurant or store and buy a brownie and eat it all, because it probably has well over your total daily limit for sugar. Boom! Over the limit in one snack. The best way to avoid this is to just give up baked goods except for really special occasions, but another option is to start baking your own stuff. Honestly, many recipes still taste good with 1/3 less sugar than the recipe calls for; you can also try sweetening with applesauce, dates, or a sugar substitute like Stevia.
Since the month ended I admit I haven’t been counting my sugar grams, and I’ve probably gone over on multiple occasions. However, just writing this article makes me realize I need to get back into gear and keep an eye on my sugar intake, so maybe reading this article will do the same for you.