How Much Added Sugar is OK to Eat?

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.

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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?

Benefits of Exercise Buddies


When your motivation to exercise is low for any reason, it’s a good idea to get an exercise buddy, or 30. Recent research suggests the company you keep can help you stick with healthier habits, like working out.

I usually get up very early in the morning to exercise, and I often wonder why I do it, especially when it’s cold and dark outside.  While I would love another hour in bed, the people I work out with motivate me to get to the gym to my favorite studio to take a class. Some of my exercise mates are good friends, but most of them are acquaintances. Whether or not I know them well, they make my life better.


On days when my work outs are more solitary in the gym and there’s no hooting and hollering to energize me, I still feel supported because I am surrounded by people doing the same thing. I don’t always know the details of their lives, and they may not know much about me, but I feel like we are silently cheering each other on.

Life often gets in the way, and I don’t always work out as often as I should. Exercising with others helps me to stick to a schedule as much as possible. My exercise buddies make it easier to get back into the swing of things when I’ve been away or sick, too. And they never fail to make working out more fun!



Should You Weigh Yourself Every Day?


I’ve been on a lot of low-calorie diets, mostly as a teenager, and my dietary deprivation always involved frequent tracking of my “progress” on the bathroom scale.  I felt accomplished when I dropped a pound or two, and terrible when I didn’t.  It was clear that my self-esteem was affected by the numbers on the scale, and I didn’t like the feeling. As a registered dietitian counseling people about weight control, I made stepping on the scale optional.

In my personal and professional experience, the scale can leave emotional scars. That’s why I was a bit surprised by an article in USA Today that suggests weighing yourself daily is helpful for losing weight and preventing weight gain.

That conclusion may be based on the results of several research studies, but it does not apply to everyone, and certainly not to children.

As Laura Cipullo, RD, author of The Women’s Health Body Clock Diet, puts it in the article, it’s easy to get lost in the numbers and start to identify your self-worth with what’s on the scale.

If you struggle with disordered eating, weighing yourself daily may not be a good idea. In fact, the studies mentioned in USA Today excluded people with a history of disordered eating, who may be more prone to obsessing about weight and respond to falling or rising numbers on the scale with extreme dieting or binging.

I would like to think that I’ve made peace with the scale, even though I weigh myself more often now than in the past 20 or 30 years. I use the scale to confirm that I must get back on track before the pounds really add up, not to deride myself for veering off course.

Most of us have a love/hate relationship with weighing ourselves. Do you weigh yourself on a regular basis?




What Health Experts Resolve to Do in 2016



While I like the idea of a fresh start, I’m not really one for making new year’s resolutions. I wondered if other food, nutrition, and health experts felt the same way, so I asked around. Truthfully, some of their answers surprised me! Here’s what they said.

Keri Gans, RDN, author of The Small Change Diet


Personally I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. I have always held the belief that there is “no time like the present” to make changes or improvements in your life. And that no matter when you begin, you should gradually ease into these changes in order to create a new habit. It doesn’t matter how fast you get there, what matters is as long as you stay.

Registered dietitian Sally Kuzemchak’s goals for food, fitness, and health in 2016

Catherine Katz, PhD, Founder of Cuisinicity


As I am reflecting back on this past year and looking toward 2016, my thoughts keep coming back to Carly Simon’s song “These are the good old days…” It may sound corny and perhaps even trite but I take this message quite literally. Twenty years from now, we will be reminiscing of these times, these days we are living now and I want to live them fully cognizant of how meaningful they are, right now. What this means to me personally is just to keep cherishing my family with all the wonderful people and furry friends in it. What this means for Cuisinicity is that I not only want to keep doing what I have been doing but I also want to pay it forward to our beautiful planet even more mindfully than I already have. So, my new year resolution is to contribute to the sustainability of our environment and to the well-being of other species by creating even more plant-based recipes. In that spirit, I have expanded my repertoire of dishes and added a new Vegan category in my Recipe index on Cuisinicity.

Six food trends to help you eat better in 2016

Ellen Albertson, PhD, RDN, CD, Psychologist, Nutritionist, Certified Wellcoach®


I set resolutions because they’re a powerful tool to plan and get psyched for a year of achievement, happiness and success. My thinking changes this time of year. I review what I’ve achieved in the previous year and consider where I want those completions to lead me next. Rather then setting resolutions around what I should or shouldn’t do, I think about what I really want and commit to meaningful resolutions I can accomplish.

How to give up your inner critic this year

Karen Ansel, MS, RDN, co-author of The Calendar Diet: A Month-By-Month Guide to Losing Weight while Living Your Life.

High Res 4

After years of working to help people live healthier lives I’ve realized that it’s really about what you do day in and day out on a consistent basis that yields the best results. So, I don’t usually make New Years resolutions. I used to in the past but I’ve found that after a few weeks I always seemed to forget about them. Instead, I have an ongoing loose list of goals that I try to focus on and tweak as needed no matter what time of year it is.

Feeling adventurous? Seven fitness trends to try in 2016

Holley Grainger, MS, RD, Owner, Holley Grainger Nutrition 


While I’m not one to set hard-core resolutions each time the calendar year turns, I do like to use this time to reflect on the previous year to help me reset and create goals (business, personal, etc.) for the upcoming year. As a full time work-from-home mom of two, this year I’m hoping to be more intentional and mindful about the time I spend with my family, the time I spend on myself, and the time I dedicate to my company.

Amber Pankonin, MS, RD, CSP, LMNT, writer for


I actually do make New Year’s Resolutions. I think it’s a fun way to bring in the new year. I think spending some time reflecting back on the year is a healthy thing. It helps you evaluate what went right, what didn’t go so well, and how you can do better. I’m not a fan of lofty New Year’s resolutions because those can cause feelings of guilt and frustration. This year my New Year’s resolutions include making some changes in my business and I’m also going to pick up my ukelele more than once a month!


Better-for-You Chocolate Holiday Treats

I eat dark chocolate nearly every day, and especially during the holidays. Combining chocolate with fruit and nuts satisfies my cravings and improves nutrition. My friends and family seem to like the pairings, too.  They’re always so appreciative when I make these super simple, better-for-you treats as holiday gifts and for when I entertain.


How to make healthier holiday treats

There’s no formal recipe for my healthier holiday treats. For each batch, melt 10 ounces of dark chocolate (I use dark chocolate chips)  in a double boiler. You can also melt the chocolate in the microwave. Use a large glass bowl to make room for the other ingredients.dsc_0460

When the chocolate has melted, add 2 cups whole or chopped nuts, dried fruit, shredded coconut, or a combination directly to the double boiler, mix thoroughly, and drop by large tablespoons onto waxed paper.


Top with festive sprinkles, if desired! fullsizeoutput_a79

My latest obsession is macadamia nuts, dried cranberries, and white chocolate. Yum!


I prepare several batches of treats with a variety of ingredients.dsc_0050

When I need to be mindful of nut allergy, I make the dried fruit treats first and package them up so that they don’t come into contact with nuts. These are a raisin and coconut combo:


For the apricots or other whole fruit, dip them into the chocolate half way.


Allow the treats to set for about 2 to 3 hours before packaging.


Would it be better to forgo the chocolate and eat plain nuts and dried fruit? Yes, that would be perfect, but not nearly as much fun.  And I think my friends and family would be disappointed!

Happy holidays!


13 Holiday Survival Tips from Nutrition Pros

Holiday festivities are fun, but they drain your energy when you overeat, drink too much, and skimp on sleep. I speak from experience, of course. As December wears on, I am less motivated to take care of myself in favor of baking, entertaining, cleaning, and shopping for gifts.  Most of us, including me, could use some support to make this month better. I asked my nutrition expert friends for inspiration to make it to New Year’s Day with no regrets about my behavior, and here’s what they told me.


What to do when you struggle with the urge to splurge

Ellie Krieger, MS RDN, TV personality and award-winning cookbook author:

At a holiday buffet, before you dig in, scan and plan. Check out everything that is being served and decide which options look best to you and which to pass up. Grab a plate and fill it mostly with healthy options (vegetables like crudite and salads, and healthy proteins like shrimp cocktail or chicken skewers) plus small portions of one or two must-have indulgent dishes. This way you will leave the party satisfied, not overstuffed.

Lindsay Livingston, RD, blogger at

Don’t put holiday foods off limits. In my experience it only serves to make you want them more. Instead, focus on moderation, and when you do choose to indulge, make sure you’re not doing it mindlessly. Sit down, focus on what you’re eating, chew slowly and enjoy the treat! You may find you’ll be completely satisfied with just a small amount!


Toby Amidor, MS, RD, author of The Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook: Easy and Wholesome Meals to Cook, Prep, Grab, and Go:

The holidays are filled with all kinds of delicious food. Instead of going to any extreme– whether it’s avoiding everything or indulging in it all — choose two or three high-calorie dishes that you really love and serve yourself two heaping tablespoons of each. This way you can enjoy the amazing holiday food without feeling guilty for going overboard.

Katie Morford, MS, RD, blogger at Mom’s Kitchen Handbook:

For me, overdoing it leads to less enjoyment, not more, since it inevitably ends with a belly ache or a hangover. Yuck. I definitely indulge in holiday treats, but I’m choosy about which ones, and I keep the portions moderate. I also keep tabs on the cocktails, because it’s easy to lose track. I sometimes try to kill two birds with one stone and combine my exercise with holiday socializing, such as taking a walk with family after a holiday brunch, going ice skating with the kids, or taking the sled out for a spin.

Dawn Jackson Blatner, RDN, author of The Superfood Swap:

I still enjoy my favorite holiday desserts on actual holidays, but for all the days in-between, I satisfy my sweet tooth with dessert flavored teas. They have no calories and come in all sorts of delish seasonal flavors. Right now I’m loving: Chocolate mint, apple cinnamon and gingerbread. Do they really taste like dessert? No. Do they help control my sweet tooth? Yes. Plus, dessert teas make a great host/hostess gift!\


What to do when you need a break from the seasonal chaos

Hillary Wright, MEd, RD, LDN, Director of Nutrition, The Domar Center for Mind Body Health:

Don’t be afraid to say no. It’s not necessary to attend every holiday event you’re invited to, nor is it your responsibility to host a party if it’s too much for you. Saying no allows you more time to relax, sleep, exercise, and cook healthy foods, and to get other holiday tasks accomplished. Plus, when you avoid some seasonal parties, you’ll probably eat fewer higher-calorie foods during December.

Read this if you’re feeling sad during the holidays


Bonnie Taub-Dix, MS, RD, owner,, and author of Read It Before You Eat It:

To beat stress I highly recommend taking a bath with a side of candles and music. When was the last time you took to the tub? We all lead such hectic lives that often include a quick dip in and out of the shower in the morning before moving on to a busy day. By taking the time to submerge in warm water, you’ll sooth sore muscles and relax your mind. You’re worth this indulgent break!

Janice Bissex, MS, RDN, Cookbook Author and Holistic Cannabis Consultant at

To reduce stress, get outside every day during the holidays for a brisk walk. Bundle up if you need to and get moving! I also suggest yoga, whether it’s power yoga or more of a meditative class.


What to do when your eating is out control 

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, blogger at Real Mom Nutrition:

Make your home a safe haven. You can’t control what will be at parties, at your in-law’s house, or at the office. You know there will be dishes of candies and plates of cookies and buffets of rich foods and generally loads of goodies elsewhere. At home, make tempting healthy foods, like washed whole fruit, readily available–the fruit bowl on the counter is truly effective!

Joan Salge Blake, EdD, RDN, Clinical Associate Professor, Boston University and author of Nutrition & You:

Move up the holiday dinners to earlier in the day. Having your bigger meal during the earlier part of the day can help you avoid becoming so ravenous at the end of the day that you end up eating anything that isn’t moving. Eating earlier means you can also go for a walk after the meal, and before the sun sets.

Elisa Zied, MS, RDN, CDN, author of Younger Next Week:

How I survive and thrive during the holidays is by trying to stick to my regular eating and fitness routine as often as possible. When I treat myself, I keep the portion of indulgences such as cookies, cake and chocolate small. I also keep guilt out of the equation, because it’s a useless emotion. I also make sure to exercise during the holidays—and try to engage family and friends in physical activities so we can stay fit together. I walk outside often, even if it’s chilly, and try to fit in things like stair climbing, jumping jacks, lunges, squats and crunches whenever I can. Staying active aids digestion, keeps me feeling energized and strong and keeps stress at bay. It also helps me feel more productive and stokes my creativity so I can write better.


What to do when you want to drink less alcohol 

Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, Director of Nutrition, WebMD:

Nobody has to know what you’re drinking. Alternate every alcoholic drink with a mocktail, such as sparkling water with sliced lime. When a drink looks like a cocktail, no one notices, and at the end of the night you will have reduced your alcohol and calorie intake by half. The best part is that you wake up in the morning feeling terrific because you didn’t ‘tie one on,’ and looking good because you’re well-hydrated. It’s a win-win!


Rebecca Scritchfield, MA, RDN, HFS, author of  Body Kindness:

Forgive yourself! Just like every other human, you sometimes make mistakes. We tend to feel guilty over things we would tell our friends is no big deal. Let all the comfort, joy, and happiness in during the holidays; savor the moment and leave your calorie counters at home. Count hugs and special memories instead!


Delicious, Nutritious Holiday Recipes

None of us will get through the holidays with a “perfect” eating record, and trying is pointless, anyway. While indulgence is the name of the game during December, preparing one or two better-for-you dishes to have at parties means you’re never completely at the mercy of high-calorie holiday fare. Here are 20 holiday dishes that we nutrition experts depend on to stay healthy and energized during this hectic season. Enjoy!

Mango and Black Bean Salsa


Mango and Black Bean Salsa is festive and nutritious.  Mangos are bursting with more than 20 vitamins and minerals and, along with the black beans, they lend the salsa a hefty amount of fiber, which is often in short supply during the holiday feeding frenzy.

Tote Mango and Black Bean Salsa to a holiday party to serve with toasted whole grain Naan or pita triangles, serve as a side dish with roasted or grilled meat, chicken, or fish, or have on hand as a healthy snack.

Mango and Black Bean Salsa

Makes 2 1/2 cups.

2 cups fresh mango, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces

2 cups canned black beans, rinsed and drained

1/2 cup diced red onion

1 to 2 tablespoons finely chopped, seeded jalapeño pepper (optional)

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

In a medium serving bowl, combine all ingredients. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Serve with toasted whole wheat Naan or pita bread cut into triangles.

Per serving (1/4 cup without bread):

69 calories

0 grams fat

199 milligrams sodium

14 grams carbohydrate

4 grams fiber

3 grams protein

10 milligrams calcium

More on the Menu

Here are 19 better-for-you foods for a healthier holiday season.

Appetizers and Dips

Healthy Creamy Corn & Avocado Dip from Abbey Sharp, RD.


Eggplant Pecan Pate from Sharon Palmer, RD.


Abalone Cocktail from Christy Wilson, RD.


Sweet Potato Polenta Bites with Thyme-Marinated Mushrooms from Kara Lydon, RD, LDN.


Quick and Easy Lentil Feta Bruschetta from The Spicy RD.


Main Dishes

Savory Spinach and Feta Pie from Katie Morford, MS, RD.


Roasted Turkey Breast from Jennifer Lynn-Pullman, MA, RDN, LDN.


Smoked Firehouse Chili from Elizabeth Shaw, MS, RD.


Bacon Mushroom Cauliflower Risotto from Danielle Cushing, RD.


Salads and Side Dishes

Carrots, Dates and Mint Salad from ‪Dixya Bhattarai‪, RDN.


Roasted Brussels Sprouts from Katie Mora, MS, RD.


Golden Beet Salad from Amy Bruursema Getman, RD.


Warm Spelt Berry with Cinnamon Balsamic Vinaigrette from Steph McKercher, MS, RDN.


Curried Quinoa with Butternut Squash and Pepitas from Katie Cavuto, MS, RD.



Apple Quinoa Bake from Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN.


Cherry Pecan Baked Pears by Allison Stevens, RD.


Orange Cranberry Tart from Judy Barbe, MS, RD.


Vegan Cannoli Dip from Emily Cope, MS, RDN.


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