Women get an average of 239 calories daily from added sugar, while men get 335 calories of added sugar each day, according to a report by the National Center for Health Statistics in May 2013. Added sugar poses a significant health concern. Consuming too much increases your risk of gaining weight, and being overweight makes you 20 to 40 times more likely to develop diabetes, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.
When you think about your daily sugar consumption, remember that some sources of sugar are good for you. The sugar naturally found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains consists of simple sugars -- the same ones you’ll get from added sugar -- but these natural sugars have two benefits. First, they’re packaged in healthy whole foods that provide essential nutrients and phytochemicals. And the second vital benefit is this: fruits, vegetables and whole grains also contain fiber. Fiber slows down the rate at which natural sugar enters your blood stream, which helps prevent unhealthy spikes in blood sugar.
Sugar to Avoid
The sugar to avoid is ''added sugar.'' As its name implies, this includes all types of sugar added to foods during processing or preparation. Some alternatives that sound healthy, such as honey, are still unhealthy added sugars, which contribute calories without nutrients. Honey retains such a small amount of nutrients that you would have to eat a cup to gain any nutritional benefits. The biggest health risk from added sugar is weight gain, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. While your body uses added sugars for energy, they quickly rush into your bloodstream and boost blood sugar. Spikes in blood sugar increase insulin levels and, over time, this may increase your risk of diabetes.
Recommended Sugar Intake
The recommended dietary allowance for carbohydrates -- 130 grams daily -- includes all of the sugars and starches in your diet. You can also calculate a normal intake based on a percent of your daily calories. The Institute of Medicine recommends getting 45 to 65 percent of your total daily calories from carbohydrates. However, the RDA does not address the issue of added sugar. The American Heart Association recommends that women limit their added sugar consumption to no more than 6 teaspoons daily, while men should not get more than 9 teaspoons.
Identifying Added Sugar
The total sugar reported on the nutrition facts label includes natural and added sugars. The only way to see whether sugar was added is to check the list of ingredients. If you find any type of sweetener in the ingredients, whether it’s molasses, honey, sucrose, corn syrup or any other form of sugar, it's an added sugar. Sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks and sugar-sweetened fruit drinks account for 46 percent of added sugars in the typical diet, according to the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010.” Another 19 percent of added sugars come from desserts and candy accounts for 6 percent.
- National Center for Health Statistics Data Brief: Consumption of Added Sugars Among U.S. Adults, 2005–2010
- Harvard School of Public Health: Simple Steps to Preventing Diabetes
- Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes: Macronutrients
- American Heart Association: Sugar and Carbohydrates
- Oklahoma State University: Dietary Fiber
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010: Chapter 3: Foods and Food Components to Reduce
- Harvard Health Publications: How to Break the Sugar Habit and Help Your Health in the Process
- USDA Nutrient Database: Honey
- Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity: Added Sugars Fact Sheet