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Healthy Daily Sugar Intake: How Many Grams of Sugar Per Day Can You Safely Eat?

Our bodies need sugar for energy, but that doesn’t mean we need to add large amounts to our diets. Eating too much sugar can lead to weight gain, heart disease, and diabetes. Find out how many grams of sugar per day you can eat as part of a healthy diet.

While sugar occurs naturally in fruit, vegetables, and dairy products, most of the daily sugar intake in a North American diet comes from added sweeteners.

You might be surprised by how many packaged foods contain added sugar, increasing our daily sugar intake. Manufacturers add sugar to food during processing to make it more enticing to consumers.

This includes obvious products such as soda, energy drinks, flavored yogurt, cereal, cookies, and ice cream. However, products that aren’t usually considered sweet, such as ketchup, barbecue sauce, tomato sauce, soup, salad dressing, bread, and some alcoholic beverages, also affect how many grams of sugar we consume each day.

Many people add additional sweeteners to foods prepared at home. We pour maple syrup on pancakes, stir sugar into coffee, and whip up frosting with powdered sugar. All of this extra sweetness boosts the amount of sugar in our diet, increasing calories without any nutrition.

Because sweeteners are so common, it’s a good idea to watch how many grams of sugar a day you eat. Sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup are the most common sugars used by food manufacturers, but there are many other types.

If you’re concerned about added sugar in processed foods, here are some sweeteners to watch for on food labels, particularly if they’re one of the first few ingredients listed.

  • Corn sweetener
  • Corn syrup
  • Dextrose
  • Fructose
  • Galactose
  • Glucose
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Lactose
  • Malt syrup
  • Maltose
  • Molasses
  • Sucrose
  • Raw sugar

Some ingredients such as agave nectar, organic cane sugar, or coconut sugar may sound healthy, but they’re simply another type of sweetener. Be sure to look out for these on labels if you’re tracking how much sugar per day you’re consuming.

Some fruits and vegetables have naturally occurring sugars, such as fructose. Watermelon, grapes, peas, and zucchini are examples of high-fructose foods. Avocados, strawberries, carrots, and green beans are lower in fructose.

Milk, cheese, cream, yogurt, and other dairy products also contain natural sugar in the form of lactose.

Even though these foods add to our daily sugar intake, they can be part of a healthy diet because they contain nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, potassium, protein, and fiber. Whole fruit is a healthier option than fruit juice for this reason.

The average American adult consumes 77 grams of sugar per day, which exceeds the American Heart Association’s recommended daily sugar intake.

  • Women should consume no more than six teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar per day. This is about 100 calories.
  • Men should eat no more than nine teaspoons (36 grams) of added sugar per day. This is about 150 calories.

If you have diabetes, your health care provider can recommend how many grams of sugar a day you can eat as a proportion of your total calories. 

You can still eat added sugar, but it affects blood glucose, just like carbohydrates do. You should limit the amount of sugar you eat and adjust other carbohydrates accordingly.

You should also carefully monitor your blood sugar, so you don’t develop hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia.

It’s important to monitor how much sugar your child consumes. On average, children eat 81 grams of sugar per day, much more than the American Heart Association’s recommended sugar intake.

  • Children under the age of two should not have any added sugar in their diet.
  • Children between the ages of 2–18 should consume less than 25 grams of added sugar per day. This is equivalent to six teaspoons or 100 calories.

To find out how much sugar per day you’re eating, read food labels, and track your sugar intake in a food diary. Try to stay within the limits recommended by the American Heart Association outlined above.

You should also consider your sugar intake as a percentage of your total diet. Added sugar should account for no more than 10 percent of your total calories per day, according to national dietary guidelines.

This doesn’t mean you can’t enhance foods with sweeteners. A sprinkle of brown sugar on a bowl of oatmeal or a drizzle of honey on plain yogurt can make healthy foods more appealing. As long as you’re keeping track of how much sugar a day you eat and staying within recommended limits, a small amount of added sugar isn't harmful, particularly if the foods have overall nutritional value. Just be careful of empty calories that cause you to go over the recommended daily sugar limits. For example, if you have a large glass of regular soda, you’re consuming up to 40 grams of sugar, which by itself is already more than the daily recommended sugar intake.

Natural sugar that occurs in whole fruits and vegetables is digested more slowly because the fiber helps slow its absorption.

By comparison, an energy drink delivers an immediate helping of sugar all at once. It causes your blood sugar to spike much faster because it’s so quickly digested.

It’s always a good idea to eat natural sugar in moderation, particularly if sugar consumption is a concern.

If you’re struggling to stay within the recommended daily sugar limits, try these tips to cut added sugar from your diet.

  • Drink water and unsweetened beverages instead of soda, flavored water, or energy drinks.
  • Swap sugary cereals for whole-grain cereal with fruit.
  • Make dessert a once-in-a-while treat rather than a daily routine.
  • Eat smaller portions of sweets like cake and ice cream.
  • Consider a clean eating diet.

Sugary foods add calories to our diet without the benefit of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.

It can be easy to give in to sugar cravings. Our body responds to sugar by releasing dopamine, which creates feelings of happiness. However, regularly going over the recommended daily sugar intake can have negative health consequences, including: 

  • Weight gain
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Inadequate nutrition
  • Acne and skin problems
  • Tooth decay
  • Sugar addiction

Sugar occurs naturally in some foods, but most of the sugar Americans consume comes from added sweeteners. How many grams of sugar per day we consume affects our health, and too much can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Added sugar isn’t essential to a well-balanced diet, but you can still enjoy an occasional treat without sacrificing your health. A healthy diet means eating nutritious whole foods and consuming less added sugar. Knowing how much sugar is too much can help you achieve this.

https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-10/DGA_Cut-Down-On-Added-Sugars.pdf
https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002444.htm
https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/how-much-sugar-is-too-much
https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/sugar-101
https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2014/10/sweet-stuff
https://www.mayoclinic.org/fructose-intolerance/expert-answers/faq-20058097
https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/added-sugar/art-20045328
https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/the-sweet-danger-of-sugar

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