Sugar is naturally found in certain healthy foods, but it is often added to foods and beverages to enhance flavor. Foods that contain large amounts of added sugar are usually also low in important nutrients such as fiber, vitamins and minerals. Having some added sugar is usually fine as long as you don’t surpass your recommended daily intake. Ask your doctor whether you should further limit your intake based on any health conditions you have or medications you may be taking.
Recommendations for Adults
The amount of added sugar you eat or drink shouldn’t exceed half of your discretionary calorie allowance each day. If you’re a woman, this means you shouldn’t have more than about 100 calories’ worth of sugar per day or about 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day, according to the American Heart Association. If you’re a man, your total sugar intake shouldn’t exceed about 150 calories or about 9 teaspoons per day.
Recommendations for Children
Preschoolers shouldn’t have more than about 4 teaspoons, or 64 calories, of added sugars per day. Children from 4 to 8 shouldn’t have more than about 3 teaspoons, or about 48 calories, from added sugar; children in this age range generally have a lower discretionary calorie allowance because they have increasing nutritional requirements, according to the American Heart Association. Preteens and teens can have about 5 to 8 teaspoons, or about 80 to 130 calories, from added sugar each day.
Exceeding your recommended sugar intake can have serious health consequences. Eating sugary foods promotes tooth decay because sugar promotes growth of bacteria on the teeth. Foods that contain large amounts of added sugar are also often low in nutrients, considering the large amount of calories they offer. In many cases, sugary foods also happen to be high in solid fats; this risky combination increases your risk of gaining weight and developing heart disease. Filling up on sugar and unhealthy fats also increases the likelihood that you’re not getting enough nutritious foods such as fruits, lean proteins, low-fat dairy, vegetables and whole grains.
Limiting Your Intake
The average American eats about 355 calories from added sugar per day, which equals about 22.2 teaspoons of sugar on a daily basis, according to Consumer Reports Health. One major way to avoid the health risks of doubling or tripling your recommended sugar intake is to stop adding extra sugar to foods and emphasize less sugary snacks in your diet. For instance, swap out candy for low-fat cheese on whole grain crackers, switch out pastries for baby carrots, and replace sugar-sweetened yogurt with plain yogurt topped with fresh berries. Another major sugar culprit in the American diet is soda. Simply cutting out one 12-ounce can of soda each day and replacing it with water could save you about 150 calories from sugar.
- Harvard School of Public Health: Added Sugar in the Diet
- KidsHealth from Nemours: Carbohydrates, Sugar, and Your Child
- FamilyEducation: Are We Too Sweet? Our Kids' Addiction to Sugar
- Circulation: Dietary Sugars Intake and Cardiovascular Health
- American Heart Association: Sugars and Carbohydrates
- Consumer Reports Health: Where Sugar Hides and How to Eat Less