How Much Added Sugar Is Too Much Added Sugar?

Spoiler alert: A single can of soda contains more than the new expert recommendation.

July 17, 2020
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Photo by: Martin Barraud/Getty Images

Martin Barraud/Getty Images

First, it should be noted that all sugars aren't bad. Fruit, for example, contains naturally-occurring sugars that don't interfere with the many health benefits that come from eating whole foods and produce. We now know it's added sugars that may contribute to your risk of weight gain, diabetes and obesity, which is why they're now shown on nutrition labels.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are revised every five years, and 2020 marks a new revision. Prior to the release, an extensive scientific review committee is charged with evaluating research on topics new and old and making recommendations for what the guidelines will include. Here’s what the science experts are saying about added sugar in the American diet.

What You Need to Know About Added Sugars

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines have already put added sugar in its cross-hairs, urging Americans to cut back on sugary, low-nutrient calories to help reduce the risk of weight gain, obesity and type 2 diabetes. While sugar sweetened beverages (SSB) are frequently cited as sources of added sugar, there are several others. The report reads:

“The Committee defined the term 'added sugars' according to the 2016 U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidance, which is sugars that are either added during the processing of foods, or are packaged as such (e.g., a bag of sugar). Added sugars include sugars (free, mono-, and disaccharides), sugars from syrups and honey, and sugars from concentrated fruit or vegetable juices that are in excess of what would be expected from the same volume of 100% fruit or vegetable juices of the same type.”

To help curtail sugar intake, the target was set at or below 10% of total daily calories. New revisions to the Nutrition Facts Panel now include added sugar values and include a Daily Value of 50 grams per day.

This new report reveals added sugar has slightly reduced over the last decade, but Americans are still eating too much. Recent data suggests only 37% of the population keeps their intake below the 10% daily recommendation, taking in an average of 16.2 teaspoons per day. Which is about 12%. The committee report has continued to evaluate sugar intake, as well as detriments of excessive sugar, in the diet and have suggested a further reduction in the cap on sugar to 6% of total calories.

What Does 6% Look Like?

Using a 2,000 calorie diet as an example, 6% of total calories shakes out to 120 calories or 30 grams of added sugar — in short, just 7.5 teaspoons. A 12-ounce can of cola contains about 40 grams, about 10 teaspoons. Cutting back on SSB can certainly help, but consumers need to be aware that added sugars are also lurking in salad dressings, breakfast cereals, flavored yogurt, snack foods and condiments, as well as the more obvious candies, baked goods and frozen treats. Finding ways to cut back on these food may help lower the intake of empty calories, decrease weight gain and reduce the risk of obesity and other chronic diseases.

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. She is the author of four cookbooks First Bites: Superfoods for Babies and Toddlers, The Healthy Air Fryer Cookbook, The Healthy Instant Pot Cookbook and Healthy Quick and Easy Smoothies.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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