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How Much Sugar Should You Have Per Day?

Recommendations For Your Daily Intake Of Sugar And How Much Sugar Is Too Much!

June 15th, 2012

Written by Holly Klamer, MS, RD
Edited by , Clinical Nutrition Writer

Sugar is a carbohydrate that provides a quick source of energy for the body. Sugars occur naturally in fruits, vegetables, grains, and most other plant-based foods. Sugar is also added to foods as a sweetener and to increase shelf-stability in processed foods.

American consumption of sugar has increased while obesity rates have also increased, and many research studies have concluded there is a strong link between increased sugar intake and increased obesity. Increased sugar intake is also linked to increased risk for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

We Eat Four Times As Much Sugar As We Should!

According to a 2009 study in Circulation, annual sugar intake has increased 19% from 1970 to 2005. In 2009, the American Heart Association (AHA) reported Americans were ingesting an average of 111 grams of sugar per day which is the equivalent of about 450 calories per day! The AHA set a limit of suggested sugar intake of 30 grams per day max, which is equivalent to only 120 calories per day or about one quarter of average current consumption.

Sugar is often used in exchange for the technical term 'sucrose', which is a disaccharide made up of one molecule of glucose and one molecule of fructose. Sucrose is one of the main sweeteners used in the food industry. However, the word sugar can be a catch-all term for any added sweetener like corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, cane sugar, brown rice syrup, and many other sugar synonyms.

There are some differences in recommendations for sugar intake because the definition of sugar, or what exactly is added sugar, is not well-defined or consistent in research studies. For instance, the World Health Organization recommends that no more than 10% your daily calories should come from added sugar, which is about 35 grams for the average female and 45 grams for the average male, both of which are higher than the AHA recommendation. Despite these differences, the main message on sugar intake is the same: limit your consumption of foods with added sugars.

Is Natural Sugar Different Than Added Sugar?

What about the naturally-occurring sugars in fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based foods? Should these foods be limited as well? Unlike foods with added sugars, fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and other plant-based foods naturally contain vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that are important for the human body, as well as fiber and other types of beneficial carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates are a main energy source for the body, and the central nervous system can only use carbohydrates as a fuel. Therefore, it is best to consume some carbohydrates every day. While it is possible to live on a very low-carbohydrate diet, most researchers agree that the ideal amount for health is around 40-45% of your total daily calories, or about 150 grams for the average female and 190 grams for the average male. Americans typically get well above this amount, primarily from sources high in added sugars.

Eating the recommended level of fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based foods (like legumes and whole grains) will provide plenty of carbohydrates for your body. These foods also provide other nutrients that are beneficial for health like fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that may help decrease the risk of certain chronic diseases.

Exercise and conditions where tissue is growing, like pregnancy, will affect how many carbohydrates your body needs as your daily caloric need grows. People with diabetes or insulin resistance may also need differing amounts of carbohydrates in their diet and should consult a medical professional for specific guidelines.

Sugar Often Comes At The Expense Of Health-Promoting Foods

Over the past few decades, the consumption of sugar has been increasing, often at the expense of other nutrient dense foods. Health organizations recommend cutting back on added sugar intake while increasing unprocessed foods like fruits and vegetables. The AHA suggests cutting down added sugars to at most 30 grams per day.

The majority of added sugar in the American diet is from soft drinks and other sweetened beverages along with sweet treats. One of the easiest ways to reduce sugar intake is to limit consumption of sweetened beverages. For example, a 12 ounce can of soda contains around 40 grams of sugar! This alone is more than the recommended amount of added sugar for the entire day according to the AHA guidelines! Juice also is a concentrated source of sugar, often containing just as much as soda. Instead of drinking full-strength juice, dilute at it at least 50% with water

Make sure to read nutrition labels and ingredients for sugar amounts; hidden sources of sugar add up. Sugar is added to many foods that might surprise you, like pasta sauces, salad dressings, and bread. The AHA has more suggestions for decreasing the amount of sugar in your diet as well, such as cutting the amount of sugar you use in baked goods by 33-50%, using spices like cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg in place of sugar, using extracts like vanilla and almond instead, and weaning yourself off added sugar in your coffee and tea slowly.

How To Fight Sugar Addiction

For many people, cutting down on sugar is difficult. This is especially true if the sugar is consumed in toxic foods. These foods create true withdrawal symptoms, creating a difficult to break sugar addiction cycle. Science is now showing that sugar addiction is as real as any other addiction.

For any problem, there are many ways out. One thing that we focus on at PEERtrainer is the fostering positive behavior change, and adding them up over time. For some people, quitting sugar cold turkey is really the only way out. For other people, a gradual crowding out of habits is the way to go.

As an action item, you might want to download a free copy of the PEERtrainer Cheat System. It is an easy to follow system that guides you from "bad" foods to "good" foods at any pace you want. It is different from other diets because it is not an all or nothing thing. There is no fail at the PEERtrainer Cheat System. To get your copy (if you haven't already) enter your email address below and we will send it to you.

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Next: What Are The Best Alternatives To Sugar?

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Related: How To Do A Low Carb Diet The Right Way

Unrelated: Why Do Men Cheat?

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Johnson RK, et al (2009). Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health. Circulation volume 120,1011-1020.

Mitka, Mike (2009). AHA: Added sugar not so sweet. JAMA volume 302,1741-1742.

Wardlaw GM, Smith AM (2011). Contemporary Nutrition. New York, New York: Mc-Graw Hill.

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