How Much Sugar Should People With Diabetes Have Per Day?

Recommended levels and how to manage your intake

It's not exactly clear how many grams of sugar a person living with diabetes should have in a day, since each person is different. Some general guidelines about sugar consumption can give you a sense of how much is too much for anyone. But having diabetes means you'll likely need to consume even less than that.

Only your healthcare provider can give you the ideal maximum number of grams of sugar you should consume in a day.

This article explains how sugar impacts glucose (blood sugar) levels. Read on to learn tips to identify sources of sugar, how much sugar a diabetic might consume, and how to work with your healthcare provider to stick to a diabetes-friendly diet.

How Much Sugar a Day Is Safe?

A national survey published in 2016 showed that American adults averaged at least 77 grams of added sugar per day. Children were found to eat a startling 82 grams. To put things in context, 4 grams of sugar equals 1 teaspoon.

These numbers are way above the daily limits recommended by the American Heart Association (AHA):

  • Men: 36 grams (9 teaspoons, a total of 150 calories)
  • Women: 25 grams (6 teaspoons, a total of 100 calories)
  • Children ages 2 to 18: less than 24 grams (6 teaspoons, a total of 100 calories)
  • Children under age 2: No added sugars recommended.

If you have diabetes, your healthcare provider will probably advise that you eat even less sugar than this. The exact amount will vary based on your specific situation.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) advises that people with diabetes avoid added sugars in beverages and limit foods made with added sugars, replacing them with healthier choices.

Identifying Hidden Sugar

It's often hard to realize how much sugar is hidden in packaged foods and drinks. Even if you're disciplined about reading food labels, you may not be aware that sugar can go by another name.

Names to watch for on food labels include:

  • Agave nectar
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Fructose
  • Maltose
  • Molasses
  • Rice syrup
  • Sucrose

Different types of sugar can have greater or lesser impacts on your blood sugar. The idea that "natural sugars" are better for you isn't necessarily true either, as you can still overdo it on foods containing them. Both natural and processed sugars are broken down into glucose and fructose.

  • Glucose is the type of sugar used for energy by every cell of the body.
  • Fructose can only be metabolized by the liver, which turns it into a type of fat (triglycerides) that can increase insulin resistance and stimulate more insulin production. In the long term, this effect can cause fatty liver and other complications.
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Common Sources of Added Sugars

There's lots of added sugar in cookies, sodas, jams, and sweetened breakfast cereals. Yet plenty of "healthy" foods have sugar, too. They may even contain more sugar.

Here are a few examples:

  • Flavored yogurt: 26 grams per 6 ounces
  • Granola bars: 7 to 12 grams per 70-gram bar
  • Jarred spaghetti sauce: 11 grams per half-cup
  • Peanut butter: 5 grams per tablespoon
  • Protein bars: 23 to 30 grams per 80-gram bar
  • Russian salad dressing: 3 grams per tablespoon
  • Sweetened apple juice: 39 grams per 12 ounces
  • Vanilla almond milk: 14 grams per cup

Luckily, many of these foods have sugar-free versions so you can enjoy them without worry. But don't confuse the terms "low fat" with "low sugar" or "no sugar added." Low-fat foods and natural ingredients can still have added sugars.

Choosing Better Carbohydrates

healthiest carbs for diabetes

Verywell / JR Bee

Your blood glucose level is affected by both complex carbohydrates (starches) and simple carbohydrates (sugar). There are several ways to work sugar into your diet without going overboard.

First, track your daily carb intake. Choose foods lower on the glycemic (GI) index. The GI index measures the impact that different foods have on your blood sugar.

The ADA recommends that people with diabetes eat carbohydrates with a low or medium GI, like fresh vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Fresh fruits, such as bananas, can also be part of a diabetes-friendly diet, but they should be limited because they are high in natural sugars.

Even if the juice you drink is unsweetened, the amount of sugar in the juice or smoothie can have the same glycemic impact as a can of soda.

Calculating Your Daily Allowance

If you don't have diabetes, the AHA recommends limiting calories from sugar to 10% of your total calories. One gram of sugar equals 4 calories.

For a 2,000-calorie diet, that means you can have up to 50 grams of sugar from all sources per day. It's worth noting that the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends an even lower percentage: no more than 5% of total calories from sugar.

If you have diabetes, it's important to work with your healthcare provider to figure out what's right for you. Ask what percentage of your total daily calories should come from sugar. This will help you to make adjustments if you are obese and need to cut calories, or if you are underweight and need to increase calories.

Summary

Having diabetes doesn't mean that you can never eat sugar again. However, it does mean that you need to be aware of hidden sugars and what percentage of your daily calories should come from sugar. This will involve reading food labels, choosing high-fiber, low-sugar carbs, and making deliberate food choices to best manage your blood sugar levels.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How many grams of sugar in a teaspoon?

    One measured teaspoon of table sugar has 4 grams of sugar. A teaspoon of honey has 6 grams of sugar. Maple syrup and agave each have 5 grams of sugar per teaspoon. 

  • Does your body need sugar?

    Yes. Sugar and carbohydrates are converted to glucose, which supplies the energy your cells need to stay alive and functioning properly. Both low and high blood sugar levels can complicate this process.

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5 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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  4. American Diabetes Association. Food & Blood Sugar.

  5. World Health Organization. Guidelines: Sugars Intake for Adults and Children.