The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans probably aren't on your must-read list for the new year, but maybe they should be. After all, they lay out the latest nutrition recommendations for the country — and many of us aren't exactly checking all the boxes.
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How much alcohol is considered safe to drink? It's in there. What about daily fruit and veggie counts? Yep, that's in there too.
The guidelines — developed by the USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — also touch on how much added sugar you should be getting, and the recommendation may come as a surprise once you compare it to your actual diet.
So, How Much Added Sugar Should You Be Getting?
The 2020-2025 guidelines say that no more than 10 percent of our calories should come from added sugar. If you're eating 2,000 calories a day, that means limiting your added sugar to 200 calories. That's equal to 13 teaspoons or 53 grams, or roughly the amount in a can of regular cola plus a bowl of sugary cereal.
We could all do well to be a bit more mindful of our sugar intake. Sugar consumption and obesity have been closely linked, and just under 40 percent of adults in the U.S. have obesity, according to the Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Obesity, in turn, is connected to serious health conditions like heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes.
To decrease obesity, the thinking is that we should be meeting the majority of our daily nutrition needs with healthy foods like fruits, veggies and whole grains, and while added sugar doesn't have to be totally off-limits, it should account for a much smaller percentage of our calories than we're currently getting. The average American adult consumes around 77 grams of added sugar per day, more than three times the recommended amount for some people, per the American Heart Association.
What Is Added Sugar, Exactly?
Added sugar is any sugar added during the processing of a food, according to the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
This can be easy to spot on nutrition labels, because these break down how much total sugar is in a food and how much of that is added sugar.
Added sugar goes by many names. If it ends in -ose, then you can be sure it's a type of sugar.
Types of Added Sugars:
- Maple syrup
- Granulated sugar
- Raw sugar
- Natural cane sugar
- Dextrose or sucrose
- Concentrated fruit or vegetable juices
Natural sugars, on the other hand, typically comprise two groups of food, fruit and dairy. The sugar in fruit and milk sugar (lactose) are both considered natural sugars. Milk typically contains added sugar when flavorings are introduced, like with chocolate or strawberry milk.
What Does 10 Percent Added Sugar Look Like?
Sugar math is pretty easy. Once you know how many calories are in a gram of sugar, it's simple to figure out if you're going over.
- 1 teaspoon sugar = 16 calories
- 1 teaspoon sugar = 4 grams sugar
Here's what 10 percent of your calories will look like for the following daily amounts:
How to Reduce Added Sugar in Your Diet
In order to reduce the added sugar in your diet, you first have to know where it's coming from. The largest source of added sugars in the diet across all age groups are from sugar-sweetened beverages, according to August 2019 research in Nutrients. These include:
- Soft drinks
- Flavored teas
- Flavored waters
- Juice drinks
- Sports drinks
- Flavored coffees
- Flavored milks
Other popular sources of added sugar come from condiments, cereal, processed foods and of course the obvious cakes, cookies and other desserts.
Here are some steps you can take to start reducing your added sugar:
1. Keep a Food Journal
Jot down everything you eat for a few days and determine your current added sugar intake. This will help you identify where your added sugars are coming from.
2. Figure Out Your Added Sugar Number
Determine how many calories you should be eating and let that guide how many added sugars you should be eating. The MyPlate Calorie Counter is a great way to help you get started with that.
3. Cut Back Slowly
There is no need to completely eliminate all added sugars from your diet. But you should choose your added sugar wisely. For example, if your flavored morning coffee is important to you, then keep it in and cut back somewhere else.
4. Make Smart Swaps
Take notice of how you feel when you start reducing your added sugar. If you are finding it hard to give up your favorite foods, find some healthy substitutes. Some ideas:
- Use salsa instead of ketchup as your condiment of choice.
- Grab a piece of fruit or some berries when you have a sweet craving.
- Cook more at home. You are more likely to consume fewer added sugars when you can control what goes in your food.
- Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Committee
- FDA: Added Sugars on The New Nutrition Facts Label
- Nutrients: "Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Cardiometabolic Health: An Update of the Evidence"
- Harvard Medical School: "The Sweet Danger of Sugar"
- American Heart Association: "How Much Sugar Is Too Much?"