If you’re like the average American, you probably get more than 13 percent of your total daily calories from added sugars, according to the U.S. 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. That’s roughly 270 calories per day based on a 2,000-calorie diet.
Added sugars are sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared, or simply added at the table.
Added sugar intake per day is particularly high among children, adolescents and young adults. The major source of added sugars in typical American diets is beverages, including sodas, fruit drinks and sweetened coffee and tea drinks. The other major source is snacks and sweets, including cakes, pies, cookies, donuts and ice cream.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines recommends limiting added sugars to less than 10 percent of calories per day.
“Reducing added sugar intake per day makes sense for everybody, whether or not they have a metabolic condition like diabetes,” says Amy Chang, MD, an endocrinologist at Scripps Clinic. “A nutritious diet that keeps us optimally healthy gets most of its calories from proteins and vegetables and healthy carbohydrates — not from consuming a lot of sugar.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) also recommends added sugars to be less than 10 percent of calories per day, which is about 12 teaspoons for a healthy person consuming 2,000 calories per day. For additional health benefits, added sugars should account for less than 5 percent of calories, according to WHO.
“That’s less than one can of soda per day,” says Dr. Chang. “People who take sugar in their coffee or tea could be close to the healthy daily limit by noon if they don’t work on making modifications to their dietary habits.”
The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to six teaspoons for most women and nine teaspoons for most men.
To figure out if a packaged food contains added sugars, check the nutrition facts label. The line for sugars contains both the natural and added types as total grams of sugar. Natural sugars are found in fruit and dairy products.
“When it comes to controlling added sugar intake per day, the best advice is to read labels. Be aware that processed and prepackaged foods can be loaded with sugar,” Dr. Chang says. “Cooking from scratch is a powerful way to take control of your health, because you’re controlling what’s going into your body.”
If you’re ready to make the cut, here are a few more tips to help you succeed:
When you try to change any habit, incremental change is more likely to stick than a drastic, cold-turkey approach. Try eliminating a couple of teaspoons a day at first and build on your successes.
Any improvement is better than none. If you have questions about what’s an optimal goal for you based on your age, health and physical condition, talk to your primary care doctor.
These sources of added sugar should be the first to go. Try switching to water — carbonated if you like. Add just a splash of fruit juice to liven it up but remember that fruit juice is also a concentrated source of sugar.
Sugary snacks are high on the list of items that assault your system with sugar. Snack on whole fruits and veggies instead.
While foods in boxes, cans and cartons are convenient, they’re also likely chock-full of added sugar (not to mention sodium and fats). Shop the outside aisles of the grocery store which typically stock produce.
If your cooking skills are rusty, take a class to learn how to whip up quick and nutritious meals. Community centers, local colleges and even some grocery stores offer such classes.