While recommendations vary slightly among health-centered organizations, one constant is the suggestion to reduce added sugars in your diet. Foods that contain added sugars provide additional calories without enhancing nutrition. Natural sugars, such as fructose in fruit and lactose in milk, are part of a food's nutritional package, explains the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, but limiting sugar added to foods is key to managing overall calories.
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Food patterns established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture designate an appropriate number of servings from each food group, based on overall calorie target. The meal patterns allow for discretionary calories not accounted for in the food group recommendations. Discretionary calories can be spent on solid fats and added sugars, or SoFAS, says the USDA. In a 1,200-calorie diet, the total number of calories allotted for SoFAS is 121 calories, or roughly 10 percent of overall calories.
Because discretionary calories apply to solid fat and sugar, the total number of calories allowed from sugar varies according to your food choices. The USDA recommends choosing lean or low-fat cuts of meat and fat-free or low-fat dairy products, the calories from which are part of the general meal pattern guidelines and not included in the discretionary calorie allowance. When you choose higher fat protein options, the additional calories must come from your discretionary calories, thereby affecting the amount of added sugar allowed.
Simplifying Sugar Guidelines
The American Heart Association recommends a maximum of 100 calories daily from added sugar, or roughly 6 tsp., for women, and up to 150 calories, approximately 9 tsp., for men. In a 1,200-calorie diet, however, less is more appropriate. As a general guideline, the American Heart Association recommends limited added sugars in your diet to no more than 50 percent of discretionary calories. That amounts to around 60 calories from added sugar, or less than 4 tsp., in a 1,200-calorie diet.
Identifying Added Sugars
Although tracking sugar added to your coffee, cereal or other foods is fairly cut and dried, processed foods often contain added sugar, as well. Reading the nutrition label will help you identify how many grams of sugar a food provides; however, the label doesn't differentiate between natural and added sugar. Check the ingredient list for sugar by other names, such as molasses, honey, liquid fructose, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose and corn syrup solids.