“Start Simple” Message Better Aligns with 10% Sugar Limit


One of the most popular and widely abused ingredients in the United States is the sugar that is added to food. I’m not talking about natural forming sugar, like that found in strawberries, but rather sugar that is added to our foods and beverages. It’s no surprise that establishing a healthy limit in the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for American’s would be debated. Should we stick with the previous 2015-2020 limit of 10% or further reduce our sugar intake to 6% of the total recommended calories?

The very low sugar limit is nothing new, having been previously recommended by the American Heart Association in 2009. They established the following sugar limits:

  • Men should consume no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams or 150 calories) of sugar per day.
  • For women, the number is lower: 6 teaspoons (25 grams or 100 calories) per day. Consider that one 12-ounce can of soda contains 8 teaspoons (32 grams) of added sugar! 

Earlier in the year, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, a 20-person, scientific, expert committee actually recommended that the guidelines be reduced to 6% due to rising rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancers in the U.S. They contended that we often consume too many calories when we we exceed the 6% added sugar limit. However, the federal government declined to accept these recommendations saying “there was not a preponderance of evidence in the material the committee reviewed to support specific changes, as required by law”.

The final recommendation issued in the 2020-2025 DGA is that

“Added sugars should be limited to less than 10% of calories per day starting at age 2. Avoid foods and beverages with added sugars for those younger than age 2.”

The 10% of calories, added sugar limit is certainly more consistent with their “Start Simple” messaging of incorporating modest changes each day that push us closer to meeting the goal. While federally funded programing would have had to comply with the 6% goal, the average American was highly unlikely to have willingly follow suit as their their current intake is more than double that, averaging 13% of total calories.

Comparing Sugar Limits

Added Sugar % of Total Calories Teaspoons/Day Grams Sugar/Day
Current Intake 13% 16.25 68
2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines 10% 12.5 53
Considered but Discarded 6% 7.5 32
Added Sugar Comparison (4.2 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon)

The Top Sources of Sugar

Liquid sugar tops the charts contributing 35% of added sugars in the form of soda, energy drinks, fruit drinks and gourmet coffees and sweet teas. This chart published in the DGA breaks down the top sources of sugar, including a deeper dive into the top two offenders, beverages and desserts.

Source: USDA and HHS https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov

While most people are aware of the added sugar found in cakes, cookies, pies, candy, ice cream, sodas and sweet teas, it’s also added to many processed foods like spaghetti sauce, ketchup, BBQ sauce, peanut butter, cereal and breakfast bars, yogurt, salads dressings and cured meats. Here’s a current run down on how easily one can rack up their sugar intake over the course of the day.

Item Grams of Sugar
(Limit is 53 grams/day)
Teaspoons of Sugar
Water, Plain Coffee or Unsweetened Tea (8 oz) 0 0
Sports Drink (12 oz) 20 5
Sweet Tea (12 oz) 29 7
Soda (12 oz) 39 9
Vanilla Ice Cream (1/2 cup) 14 3.5
Chocolate Chip Cookie (1) 15 3.5
Apple Pie (1/8) 18 4.25
Spaghetti Sauce (1/4 cup) 6 1.4
Ketchup (1 Tbsp) 4 1
BBQ Sauce (2 Tbsp) 17 4
Peanut Butter (2 Tbsp) 3 .75
Ranch Dressing (2 Tbsp) 2 .5
Fruited Sweetened Yogurt (6 oz) 13 3
Breakfast Bar (each) 8 2
Sugar Sources

In March 2020, the Nutrition Facts Label was refreshed to help us better track the added grams of added sugar contained in our foods and beverages. Understanding the potential negative impact on sales, manufacturers have been quick to respond with lower sugar versions including a flood of new low and no calorie beverages, reduced sugar condiments, cereals and breakfast bars. Have you been using the new food label to track your added sugar? Are you closer the American average of 13% or trending down towards 10% or possibly even 6%? Starting simple is a smart approach. Read the food label and compare sugar contents, choose your liquid beverages wisely and begin switching up a few desserts or snacks with nuts, whole fruit and crispy, fresh vegetables.

Source: USDA and HHS https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov

Resource: https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) jointly publish the Dietary Guidelines for Americans every 5 years based upon the current body of science.

Categories: Nutrition & Wellness



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