Sugar Intake: How Much Is Too Much?

Sugar Intake: How Much Is Too Much?


The 2015—2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting added sugar to less than 10% of total calories per day. In addition, the American Heart Association recommends reductions in added sugars to no more than 100 calories per day for women and 150 calories per day for men.


Sugar is added to many foods that are low in nutrients and can cause weight gain, but sugar is also found naturally in many healthful foods. That is one reason why setting a limit on how much sugar you should eat may be difficult. The following suggestions can help you limit your intake of added sugar and sugar from high-calorie foods.


Reading food labels

The Nutrition Facts food label, which is on most foods that you buy, lists the amount of sugar in a food under Total Carbohydrate. Currently, there is no way to know if the sugar occurs naturally, such as in a banana or a glass of milk or juice, or as an added ingredient, such as the high-fructose corn syrup found in a can of soda. Fortunately, the FDA has approved a new nutrition facts label, which will appear on packaged foods by 2018. The new nutrition facts label will make it much easier for consumers to identify the amount of added sugar in foods (in grams), and they will also require manufacturers to list more realistic portion sizes on products.


Original versus new Label—side-by-side comparison. (From the United States Food and Drug Administration. Accessed February 8, 2017)


Until the new labels are in place, the best way to determine if the food has added sugar is to look at the ingredient list on the food label. Look for words like corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, maltose, dextrose, sucrose, honey, and maple syrup. Also look to see how far down the ingredient list the sugar occurs. If it is near the top of the list, then the food contains a large amount of added sugar.


The following foods contain added sugar:

  • Cakes
  • Candy
  • Cookies
  • Pies
  • Many drinks, including:
    • Cocktail mixers
    • Flavored tea and coffee beverages
    • Fruit punch
    • Soda
    • Sports and energy drinks
    • Sweetened teas and lemonade


Sugar is also added to other foods to provide flavor or texture, such as fruited yogurt, some sauces, and some salad dressings.


Watching your sugar intake

Make sure you are aware of how much sugar you eat. Enjoy a healthy diet that contains a variety of foods. When you do so, you eat sugars that are found naturally in foods, such as fruit, juice, breads, cereals, and dairy foods. Try to limit foods that contain large amounts of added sugars, because they can cause weight gain. These foods, of course, are tasty and add pleasure to your meals, so having them now and then and in small amounts is OK. However, regular intake of foods high in added sugars is not a good idea.


Even if you have diabetes, you can eat some sugar, as long as you work it into your eating pattern in the place of other carbohydrates. A registered dietitian can help you decide how many grams of carbohydrate you need, and how to include them in your diet to make your diet both healthful and tasty.


Sweetened cereals

Breakfast cereals are often marketed as being healthy, and while this can be true for some, many are also highly processed and contain large amounts of added sugar. When choosing a breakfast cereal, compare the labels and choose one that is higher in fiber and has little to no added sugar. If you prefer some sweetness with your cereal, it is better to add a small amount of stevia, or regular sweetener, yourself. Adding some fresh fruit will also add sweetness along with additional fiber and nutrients to your cereal.


References and recommended reading


Changes to the nutrition facts label. U.S. Food and Drug Administration website. Accessed January 29, 2017.


Dietary guidelines 2015-2020. A closer look inside healthy eating patterns. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion website. Accessed January 29, 2017.


Van Horn L, Johnson RK, Flickinger BD, Vafiadis DK, Yin-Piazza S, Added Sugars Conference Planning Group. Translation and implementation of added sugars consumption recommendations: a conference report from the American Heart Association Added Sugars Conference 2010. Circulation. 2010;122(23):2470-90. doi:10.1161/CIR.0b013e3181ffdcb0.


Contributed and updated by staff

Review date: 2/8/17

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