Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition

Recommendations for added sugars: How to control your sweet tooth

Published April 2, 2015
open soda can

URBANA, Ill. – “Added sugars” are often included during the processing of food and beverages to enhance their flavor and palatability. These foods—with extra calories and little nutrient content—are referred to as being calorie-dense, said a University of Illinois Extension nutrition and wellness educator.

“You should limit your intake of these foods with added sugars because they carry a risk for several health concerns, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cavities,” said Kristin Bogdonas.

Several international and national organizations have established recommendations based on current research to help consumers make informed food and beverage choices for optimum health, she said.

The World Health Organization and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that added sugars make up no more than 10 percent of your total caloric intake. That means:

  • 40 grams a day (10 teaspoons) if you eat 1,600 calories
  • 50 grams (12.5 teaspoons) if you eat 2,000 calories
  • 60 grams (15 teaspoons) if you eat 2,400 calories
  • 70 grams (17.5 teaspoons) if you eat 2,800 calories

Recommendations from the American Heart Association are considerably lower. They suggest that women consume no more than 100 calories (24 grams or 6 teaspoons) per day from added sugars. For men, they recommend no more than 150 calories (36 grams or 9 teaspoons per day of added sugars, she said.

“As a reference point, one 16-ounce bottle of brown pop contains 54 grams or 13.5 teaspoons of sugar!” Bogdonas said.

Looking at a food’s nutrition label will quickly tell you how many carbohydrates and grams of sugar can be found in one serving of a particular food. This information can be helpful, but it doesn’t paint the whole picture because added sugars are currently not a separate line item, she advised.

Until nutrition labels are updated, naturally occurring sugars, such as those found in fruit and milk, and added sugars are lumped together as one. For example, yogurt is a seemingly healthy item, and it has roughly 9 grams of naturally occurring sugar (or lactose), but the flavored varieties can have more than 30 grams of sugar,” Bogdonas said.

Another way to find added sugars in your food is to look at the ingredient list. If you see sugar or another form of sugar in the first five ingredients, look for a different brand, variety, or a healthier alternative, she said.

Three Tips to Slow Down Sugar Intake

  1. Start by evaluating your choice of beverage throughout the day. Forty-seven percent of the added sugar in our diets comes from sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda (25%), fruit drinks (11%), coffee and tea (7%), sport and energy drinks (3%), and alcohol (1%). It’s easy to consume a lot of unnecessary sugar when it’s in liquid form. Try fruit- and herb-infused waters this spring. Tasty combinations include thyme and pineapple, basil and orange, mint and cucumber, and blackberry and sage.
  1. Enjoy smaller portions of sweet treats. You don’t have to completely eliminate desserts from your diet, but it wouldn’t hurt to cut back on the amount that’s being served. Try the “three-bite rule”: the first bite is to taste it, the second bite is to savor it, and the third bite is to be satisfied with it.
  1. Look for hidden sugar. Added sugars are not just found in soda and candy bars. They are also in such everyday foods as bread, ketchup, salad dressings, pasta sauce, and yogurt. To be a sugar sleuth, you have to get in the habit of reading labels and the ingredient lists. Several types of sugars are used during processing so check for these terms: high-fructose corn syrup, dextrose, sucrose, corn syrup, honey, maltose, cane sugar, brown sugar, and maple syrup.
  1. Keep track of how many grams of added sugars you consume per day or week and try cutting back a little at a time. By switching from a 16-ounce soda to tea or infused water, you can save 54 grams of added sugar in one sitting.

“For a look at what’s ahead in the new 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, check out the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee,” Bogdonas suggested.