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Daily Intake of Sugar — How Much Sugar Should You Eat Per Day?

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The amount of sugar that is safe to eat per day may depend on your total caloric intake, activity level, and other factors. In general, it’s best to avoid added sugars when possible because they do not contain beneficial nutrients. Eating too much sugar may contribute to preventable diseases.

The excess consumption of added sugar is associated with a variety of preventable diseases.

It provides calories with no added nutrients and can damage your metabolism in the long run.

But how much is too much? Can you eat a little bit of sugar each day without harm, or should you avoid it as much as possible?

Added sugars vs. natural sugars — Big difference

It’s very important to make the distinction between added sugars and sugars that occur naturally in foods like fruits and vegetables.

These foods contain water, fiber, and various micronutrients. Naturally occurring sugars are absolutely fine, but the same does not apply to added sugar.

Added sugar is the main ingredient in candy and abundant in many processed foods, such as soft drinks and baked products.

The most common added sugars are regular table sugar (sucrose) and high fructose corn syrup.

To optimize your health, do your best to avoid foods that contain added sugars. Even the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting calories from added sugars to less than 10 percent of total calories per day.

Also, remember that added sugars can also include natural sugars. For instance, if you add honey to your oatmeal, your oatmeal contains added sugar from a natural source.

Sugar consumption is extremely high

In 2008, people in the United States were consuming over 60 pounds (28 kg) of added sugar per year — and this does not include fruit juices.

The average intake was 76.7 grams per day, which equals 19 teaspoons or 306 calories.

According to this study, sugar consumption decreased by 23% between the years 2000 and 2008, mainly because people drank fewer sugar-sweetened beverages.

However, current intake levels are still way too high and likely haven’t changed much since then. In 2012, the average adult intake was 77 grams per day.

Excess sugar consumption has been associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, tooth decay, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and more.

What is a safe amount of sugar to eat per day?

Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer to this question. Some people can eat a lot of sugar without harm, while others should avoid it as much as possible.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the maximum amount of added sugars you should eat in a day are:

  • Men: 150 calories per day (37.5 grams or 9 teaspoons)
  • Women: 100 calories per day (25 grams or 6 teaspoons)

To put that into perspective, one 12-ounce (355-mL) can of Coke contains 140 calories from sugar, while a regular-sized Snickers bar contains 120 calories from sugar.

In contrast, the US dietary guidelines advise people to limit their intake to less than 10% of their daily calorie intake. For a person eating 2,000 calories per day, this would equal 50 grams of sugar, or about 12.5 teaspoons.

If you’re healthy and active, these are reasonable recommendations. You’ll probably burn off these small amounts of sugar without them causing you any harm.

Still, it’s important to note that there’s no need for added sugars in the diet.

If you’re addicted to sugar, perhaps you may want to consider avoiding it completely

Sugary, highly processed foods stimulate the same areas in the brain as illegal drugs.

For this reason, sugar can cause people to lose control over their consumption.

That said, sugar is not nearly as addictive as illegal drugs, and “sugar addiction” should be comparatively easy to overcome.

If you have a history of binge eating, failing to adhere to set rules about your eating (like cheat meals or days), and repeated failures with the “everything in moderation” approach, perhaps you’re addicted.

In the same way that a smoker needs to avoid cigarettes completely, someone addicted to sugar may need to avoid sugar completely.

How to minimize sugars in your diet

Limit these foods, in order of importance:

  1. Soft drinks. A single 12-ounce (355-mL) can of soda contains as much as 8 teaspoons of sugar.
  2. Fruit juices. Fruit juices contain the same amount of sugar as soft drinks. Choose whole fruit or canned fruit with no additional sweetening instead.
  3. Candies and sweets. Try to limit your consumption of sweets.
  4. Baked goods. These include cookies, cakes, and pies, among other pastries. They tend to be very high in sugar and refined carbohydrates.
  5. Low fat or diet foods. Foods that have had the fat removed from them are often very high in sugar.

Drink water instead of soda or juices and don’t add sugar to your coffee or tea.

Instead of sugar in recipes, you can try things like cinnamon, nutmeg, almond extract, vanilla, ginger, or lemon.

Try to be creative and find recipes online. You can eat an endless variety of amazing foods even if you eliminate all sugar from your diet.

Natural, zero-calorie alternatives to sugar include stevia and monk fruit.

Originally published on Healthline June 10, 2021. Written by Kris Gunnars, BSc. Medically reviewed by Kim Rose-Francis RDN, CDCES, CNSC, LD. Republished with permission.

Photo credit: MirageC/Getty Images