How Much Sugar Should You Really Have a Day?

Cup of black coffee with a spoon surrounded by white sugar cubes on a bright red background
Stas Knop/Pexels.

Key Takeaways

  • Research has shown that consuming too much sugar is harmful to your health.
  • A new study has provided more evidence that the recommendation to limit your added sugar intake to no more than 6 teaspoons a day can help you reduce your risk of negative health effects.
  • It’s important for everyone of all ages to have a healthy relationship with food, but especially for kids.

Research has shown that eating too much sugar can have negative effects on your health, like raising your risk for diabetes, depression, obesity, heart disease, certain cancers, and gout.

While it’s clear you want to avoid too much sugar, it’s less clear just how much sugar you can enjoy and still support your health.

How Much Sugar Do We Eat Daily?

American adults consume an average of 77 grams of sugar per day. Data shows that sugar-sweetened beverages (e.g., soft drinks, fruit juices, and sports/energy drinks) are the biggest source of added sugars in Americans’ diets.

According to a new study, there’s a research-backed limit that you can follow for your daily added sugar intake: 25 grams, or about 6 teaspoons. Here’s what experts say about limiting your sugar intake.

How Much Sugar Should You Consume Daily?

To figure out how much sugar people can enjoy a day without having a major negative effect on their health, researchers did a review of meta-analyses on available studies.

The researchers looked at the findings from 73 previous meta-analyses, which showed the harmful links between sugar consumption and hormonal and metabolic diseases, heart disease, cancer, asthma, tooth decay, depression, and premature death.

The findings from the review showed that:

  • Each serving/week increment of sugar-sweetened beverage intake was associated with a 4% higher risk of gout
  • Each 250 milliliter/day increment of sugar-sweetened beverage intake was associated with a 17% higher risk of coronary heart disease
  • Every 25 gram/day increment of fructose intake was associated with a 22% higher risk of pancreatic cancer

6 Teaspoons a Day

Six teaspoons a day is about 24 grams/100 calories of added sugar per day. However, not all the sugar in your diet is the same.

Remember that added or “free” sugars are not the same as the natural sugar found in fruit or dairy—those naturally-occurring sugars do not count toward the daily limit.

Based on the findings, the researchers recommended that people limit their intake of sugar-sweetened beverages to no more than one per week (about one 12-ounce can) and keep their daily intake of added sugar to under 25 grams (about 6 teaspoons).

What Do Dietary Guidelines Say About Sugar?

While the findings were based on observational data, they line up with guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO), World Cancer Research Fund, and American Institute for Cancer Research—all of which support the 6-teaspoons-per-day limit.

“Limiting added sugars to 6 teaspoons per day is not at all surprising because this has been the American Heart Association (AHA)’s standard for years,” Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, founder of Nutrition Starring YOU, told Verywell. “Consuming excess sugars means we either are consuming too many calories beyond our needs leading to additional weight gain, or we are missing out on key nutrients because the foods we choose are higher in sugar and calories displacing foods we need to prevent lifestyle diseases with aging.”

Hidden Added Sugars

You probably already know that sweet treats like cakes, cookies, candy, packaged snacks, and ice cream are sources of added sugar, but products like jarred pasta sauces, condiments, peanut butter, yogurt, granola, protein bars, cereal, coffee drinks, and fruit snacks can also have sugar added to them—and it may not be obvious.

Sugar can go by a lot of other names on a food’s nutrition label or ingredient list, so it’s important that you know what to look for. Here are just a few examples:

  • Sucrose
  • Dextrose
  • Maltose
  • Glucose
  • Fructose
  • Cane juice
  • Corn syrup/high fructose corn syrup

How to Develop Healthy Sugar Habits

Experts have tried to focus their education and support efforts to limit added sugar intake on kids, as this group is especially vulnerable not just to the temptation of sweets but the product advertising and marketing that sells them.

In 2017–2018, the average daily intake of added sugars was 17 teaspoons for children and young adults between the ages of 2 and 19 years.

Caregivers have an important role to play not just in keeping an eye on kids’ sugar intake, but making sure that they think and feel positive about all the foods they eat.

Melissa Mitri, MS, RD

When developing a healthy relationship around food, it is important to not label foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’—and this applies to sugar as well.

— Melissa Mitri, MS, RD

“It is essential for families to harbor a healthy relationship around food, while still setting boundaries around sugar consumption for young children,” Melissa Mitri, MS, RD, nutrition writer and owner of Melissa Mitri Nutrition, told Verywell.

“When developing a healthy relationship around food, it is important to not label foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’—and this applies to sugar as well,” Mitri said. “It’s better to prioritize foods that are naturally sweet such as fruit and encourage sugar-filled foods in moderation as an occasional treat.”

While it’s important to start young to create life-long habits, learning about nutrition and taking steps to foster a positive relationship with food should really be a family affair.

“The most harmful approach is to single out one child with overweight or obesity and restrict their sugar intake but not for other family members,” Harris-Pincus said.

Some specific ways that Mitri recommends reducing your sugar intake include:

  • Swap out high-sugar foods and drinks for those that are “low-sugar” or have “no added sugar.”
  • Cook more meals at home, as pre-made and processed foods tend to be higher in sugar than homemade versions since you have more control over the ingredients and amounts. If you have kids, make them part of the food shopping and preparation process.
  • Educate yourself and your family about nutritious food choices. There are many books, food models, and songs and games that can teach young children about making informed decisions about what they eat and why it’s helpful for them to be empowered to do so.
  • Instead of talking about food and weight, focus the conversation on how eating certain foods makes you feel.

What This Means For You

Eating too much added sugar is harmful to your health. Experts recommend limiting your intake of added or free sugars to six teaspoons a day. You can take steps to eat less added sugar by checking nutrition labels and ingredients lists and choosing products that are “low sugar” or have “no added sugar,” as well as cooking more meals at home.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. American Heart Association. How much sugar is too much?.

  3. Malik VS, Hu FB. The role of sugar-sweetened beverages in the global epidemics of obesity and chronic diseases. Nat Rev Endocrinol. 2022;18(4):205-218. doi:10.1038/s41574-021-00627-6

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Know your limit for added sugars.

  5. Kearney J, Fitzgerald R, Burnside G, et al. Television advertisements for high-sugar foods and beverages: effect on children's snack food intakeBr J Nutr. 2021;125(5):591-597. doi:10.1017/S0007114520003116

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Get the facts: added sugars.