Confused about how much sugar is OK to eat? Here’s how to understand the suggested limits on added sugar intake, how the new Nutrition Facts panel on food labels will help you track added sugar, and how to cut back on added sugar without feeling deprived of the sweet stuff.
What You Should Know About Added Sugar
I like sugar as much as the next person, and possibly more, but I’m happy that experts suggested a daily limit on added sugar in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). Added sugar contributes unnecessary calories, and an excess amount in the diet is linked to several health problems.
There’s no need for most people to go completely sugar-free, however. The DGA recommendation is for added sugar, not the natural sugar found in foods such as fruit, fruit juice, vegetables, and plain dairy foods (called lactose). People with diabetes should monitor all types of carbohydrate intake, including natural and added sugars.
Added sugar can be part of a healthy diet, but when you limit foods with added sugar, such as soda and other sugary drinks, you make room for more nutrient-rich food choices. For example, sipping low-fat milk instead of a soda helps to satisfy protein, calcium, and vitamin D requirements. Choosing fruit instead of cookies supplies you with more fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, which are protective plant compounds.
How Much Added Sugar Is OK for You?
Added sugar limits are tied to calorie intake, so they vary from person to person. That’s why young children with lower calorie needs are “allowed” less added sugar than active teen boys, for example. (See Figuring Your Daily Sugar Allowance, below.) Speaking of children, Registered Dietitian Jill Castle’s blog about the added sugar recommendations includes a useful chart for a range of calorie intakes for kids and other great information.
First, find out how many calories you need to lose, maintain, or gain weight here. Then, do the math to figure your daily added sugar limit. Many adults need about 2,000 calories a day.
Here’s an example using a 2,000 calorie/day eating plan:
• Figure the number of sugar calories allowed: 2,000 calories daily multiplied by .10 (10%) of calories as sugar daily = 200 calories of sugar daily
• Find your sugar allowance in grams: 200 divided by 4 (there are 4 calories in each gram of sugar) equals 50 grams of sugar daily
50 grams of sugar is the equivalent of 12.5 level teaspoons of table sugar. That’s about the amount in 16-ounces of sugary soda.
How Much Sugar Is In The Food You Eat?
Knowing your sugar allowance in teaspoons and in grams is helpful for curbing added sugar intake. The revised Nutrition Facts panel on food labels lists the amount of added sugar in grams and as a %Daily Value (%DV).
You may have noticed that food products are starting to carry the new Nutrition Facts panel. Most manufacturers will have to start using the panel by July 26, 2018.
The %DV is a guide to the nutrients in a serving of food. For example, if the label lists 10 percent of the DV for added sugar, it means that a single serving provides 10 percent of your daily sugar “allowance.” The %DV for added sugar and other nutrients is based on a 2,000-calorie eating plan for healthy adults, so your sugar “allowance” may differ. For example, a person who requires 2,600 calories to maintain a healthy weight can eat up to 65 grams of added sugar daily as part of a balanced diet.
Once you know your sugar limit in grams, you can track the added sugar in packaged food as well as the sugar you add to foods, such as coffee, tea, and cereal. For reference, one level teaspoon of sugar contains four grams.
Simple Ways to Slash Added Sugar
If you’re living the sweet life, it may seem impossible to believe that you or your kids can live with less sugar. I can’t say that I’ve completely tamed my sweet tooth, but that’s OK. Here are some simple tips for cutting back on added sugar.
• Avoid sugary drinks. We drink nearly half of all the added sugar we consume as soda, sports drinks, energy drinks and other sweet beverages. Drink water or fat-free or low-fat milk instead.
• Minimize sweet treats. Cookies, candy, and snack bars and other sweet treats supply a significant amount of added sugar. Relegate these foods to the occasional category, and serve smaller portions, such as a mini cupcake or a fun-size candy bar. The first few bites are the most pleasurable, anyway.
• Control added sugar. Mix your favorite sugary cereal with an unsweetened kind, like nutrition expert and blogger Sally Kuzemchak does. (See her post about 5 Easy Ways to Cut Sugar from Your Child’s Diet.) Fill a tall glass with cold seltzer water and add just a splash of 100% fruit juice. Instead of sweetened yogurt, make your own by mixing plain with a teaspoon of sugar, honey, jam, or molasses. When baking muffins and other quick breads, cut the sugar called for in the recipe by at least one-third.
• Rely on fruit for sweetness. Swap syrup on pancakes and waffles for applesauce or other pureed fruit. Whip up a sweet smoothie with ripe fruit and milk or Greek yogurt. Try these No Added Sugar Banana Oatmeal Raisin Cups; they get their sweetness from bananas and raisins, and are better for you than oversized coffee shop and supermarket muffins. Raisins have no added sugar, but other dried fruit, such as cranberries, do, so you need to take that into consideration when tallying added sugar intake. Creamy Chocolate Peanut Butter “Ice Cream” is a satisfying, no-added sugar treat that includes a serving of fruit and the goodness of peanut butter, too!
• Compare packaged foods. Sugar is added to foods such as breads, granola, instant oatmeal, and pasta sauce. Compare brands and search the lowest sugars content on the Nutrient Facts panel.
How do you cut back on added sugar?