How much sugar should I have per day?
There is no set requirement on sugar intake. On its own, it doesn’t provide any micronutrients so it is not necessary to consume any.
Sugar comes in many ways. Naturally it comes in fruits, milk products and some vegetables. However, very little sugar comes in pure grains, and no sugar comes in 100% fat or protein. If you were to eat a wholesome, minimally processed diet of lean meats, whole grains, fresh produce, low-fat dairy and plant fats, the natural sugar consumed shouldn’t be a concern. The concern can come when you eat bakery products, bars, smoothies, fruited yogurt, entrees with sauce, and condiments — as the sugar consumed can top the charts — even without dessert!
Technically speaking, your added sugar intake should be no more than half of your discretionary calories, according to the American Heart Association. After you’ve met your nutrient goals with healthy foods, the remaining calories can be split between fat, added sugar, and alcohol. The World Health Organization agrees that no more than 5% of your calories should come from added sugars. So if you eat 2500 calories, then 125 could come from added sugar. At four calories per gram, that equates to about 31 grams (or 8 teaspoons), or approximately the amount in one 12 fl oz soda.
Let’s lay it out with a sample 2500 calorie diet of lightly processed foods:
FOOD ITEM APPROX. SUGAR CONTENT
1 cup wheat flake cereal 4 grams added
8 fl oz low fat milk 13 grams natural
1 banana 15 grams natural
2 Tbsp flavored creamer 10 grams added
6 tuna salad sub 8 grams (3 natural)
Iced tea with lemon 0
Bag of chips 2 grams added
Apple 18 grams natural
2 Tbsp Peanut butter 3 grams added
1 cup cooked spaghetti 1 gram natural
½ cup marinara 8 grams (3 natural)
1 cup small meatballs 0
2 Tbsp Parmesan cheese 0
1 cup green beans 2 grams natural
84 grams total sugar: 29 grams added = 116 calories = 4.6% calories
55 grams natural
As you can see, it’s easy to quickly meet the recommended limit for added sugar when you are consuming 2500 calories per day. For a 2000 calorie diet, the chips and creamer would have to be eliminated to stay under the 5% calorie mark. Imagine the sugar content of a typical instant breakfast, drive-through lunch, and frozen food dinner lifestyle!
– Debbie J., MS, RD
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