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Experts Say Americans Need to Eat Less Added Sugar

Spoonful of white sugar on a background of sugar granules.

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Key Takeaways

  • New dietary guidelines for Americans recommended reducing added sugar intake from 10% of total daily calories to 6%.
  • For a 2,000 calorie diet, 6% of total calories is the same as 120 calories, 7.5 teaspoons of granulated sugar, or 30 grams of added sugars per day.
  • On average, American adults consume about 77 grams of sugar per day.

A federal committee has recommended that Americans limit their sugar intake to 6% of their daily calories. The current dietary guidelines allow for 10% of one's daily calories from added sugar. The new recommendations reduce the allowance for women by 20 grams and 25 grams for men, Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, a New Jersey-Based registered dietitian and author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club, tells Verywell. 

Dietary Guidelines for Americans

The new recommendation comes from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), which is providing guidance for the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

These data-driven guidelines are produced by the Department of Health and Human Services and the United States Department of Agriculture every five years to help Americans make dietary and physical activity choices that support overall health.

“The American Heart Association (AHA) has long recommended limiting added sugars to 24 grams per day (6 teaspoons) for women and 36 grams (9 teaspoons) per day for men," Harris-Pincus says, adding that only about 10% of the population meets these limits. "Reducing the added sugar recommendations to 6% of daily calories will come in only slightly higher than those of the AHA.”

While it makes nutritional sense to decrease one's intake of empty calories from added sugars, Harris-Pincus points out that Americans might find it difficult to achieve these levels. 

For a 2,000 calorie diet, 6% of total calories from added sugars would be equal to 120 calories, 7.5 teaspoons, or 30 grams of added sugars per day. That's compared to the previous recommendation of 10% of total calories from added sugars, which would be about 200 calories, 12.5 teaspoons, 50 grams of added sugar per day. American adults consume an average of 77 grams of sugar per day, far more than the recommended amount.

What This Means For You

The new recommendation for daily intake of added sugars is being reduced from 10% to 6% of your total daily calories. If you're not sure how much you're consuming per day, it can help to learn about the different names and sources of sugar. Once you know how to recognize them, you can find ways to reduce your intake.

What Are Added Sugars?

Added sugars are simple carbohydrates that are added to foods during production, or that you add something you're eating and drinking. “This can be as simple as stirring sugar into your coffee or when a manufacturer incorporates sugar into cookies, ice cream, crackers, salad dressing or marinades," Harris-Pincus says.

However, Harris-Pincus also notes that there are some sugars that aren't in this category. "Not included here are naturally occurring sugars found in fruits, veggies, and unsweetened dairy products like milk and plain yogurt.”

Added sugars aren't always obvious or easy to spot. If you want to reduce your intake, one of the best ways to start is to learn how to recognize hidden sugars on food labels. Once you know what to look for, you'll be able to get a more accurate sense of what your current added sugar intake is and look for opportunities to lower it.

Common names for added sugars include:

  • Brown sugar
  • Cane sugar
  • Corn syrup
  • Dextrose
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Malt syrup

You might be surprised by sources of added sugar in your diet. For example, a can of soda has, on average, 39 grams of added sugars. Fruit juice can be another source of added sugar, and can sometimes contain as many grams (if not more) than soda. But 100% fruit juice without added sugar can offer important health benefits; an analysis of data reported significantly lower intakes of added sugar and no difference in dietary fiber intake in children and adults who drink orange juice versus those who do not.

Sweet treats like pastries, ice cream, packaged foods, and even bottled barbecue sauce, ketchup, and pasta sauces also typically contain added sugars.

An easy way to avoid added sugar is to make your own pasta sauce instead of using jarred varieties—a surprising source of added sugar.

Concerns About Added Sugars

Added sugars are used in many foods and drinks to give them a sweet taste. The problem is that added sugars pack in extra calories without the benefit of added nutritional value.

Research has shown that a high intake of added sugars is linked to several negative health outcomes, from heart disease to weight gain.

Health conditions that are associated with a high intake of added sugars include:

While some of these health conditions develop over time, sugar can also have more immediate and noticeable effects on your health. For example, your teeth and gums. “Sugar is also a major contributing factor to tooth decay,” Jack Hirschfeld, DDS, a clinical instructor at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, School of Dental Medicine, tells Verywell.

Finding ways to combat excessive added sugar intake is one way to reduce the risks associated with conditions such as obesity and heart disease, the rates of which continue to rise in the U.S.

Finding Balance

The most obvious way to reduce your intake of added sugar is to avoid it altogether—but that's easier said then done, especially if you have a sweet tooth. The truth is, you shouldn't have to give up a little sugar in your coffee or a slice of birthday cake.

“The goal is to achieve a balanced way of eating that retains the enjoyment of food while minimizing the risk of adverse health outcomes related to excess sugar consumption," Harris-Pincus says.

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Article Sources
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