How Much Added Sugar Is Too Much Added Sugar?

A single can of soda contains more than the daily recommendation.

Updated on April 06, 2023

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Photo by: Suparat Malipoom / EyeEm/Getty Images

Suparat Malipoom / EyeEm/Getty Images

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. On the other hand, we know it’s added sugars that may contribute to your risk of weight gain, diabetes and obesity, which is why they’re now listed on nutrition labels.

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) like soda, energy drinks, sweetened coffee drinks and teas are frequently cited as the most offensive sources of added sugar, there are several others. The guidelines report reads:

“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.”

These added sugars go by many names, making them tricky to identify. Dextrose, corn syrup, maltose, sucrose, cane juice, brown sugar and molasses are just a few commonly found on ingredient lists.

To help curtail sugar intake, the recommendation is set at or below 10 percent of total daily calories – that’s 200 calories on a 2,000-calorie diet, but this is still generous. New revisions to the Nutrition Facts Panel now include “added sugar” values and include a Daily Value of 50 grams per day – that’s the equivalent of 12.5 teaspoons of sugar.

Added sugar intake has slightly reduced over the last decade, but Americans are still eating too much. According to the American Heart Association, the average intake is 77 grams per day for adults and 81 grams a day for children. That shakes out to about 20 teaspoons each day. A 12-ounce can of cola contains about 40 grams (about 10 teaspoons). Cutting back on SSB can certainly help reduce your sugar intake, 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.

Reading labels, taking stock of all the sources of added sugar in your diet and finding plausible ways to cut back on these foods may be the most practical way to 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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