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Healthy Sugar Intake

Erin Coleman, R.D., L.D.
Woman eating ice cream

Getting too much sugar in your diet, especially from added sugar, can be problematic for your health. Excess added sugar puts you at risk for weight gain, obesity, and diabetes. A study published in 2014 in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine found that added sugar consumption also boosts your risk for death from heart disease. Therefore, knowing sugar and carbohydrate intake recommendations is a must.

Do Sugar Recommendations Exist?

While added sugar recommendations do exist, there are no official guidelines in place for total sugar consumption. However, sugar is a type of carbohydrate, and total carb recommendations are available. It's important to be able to distinguish between added sugar and natural sugars.

Added Versus Natural Sugar

Added sugar is processed sugar added to foods and drinks to enhance flavor. Table sugar is a form of added sugar. Cookies, cakes, pies, candy, ice cream, and soda are examples of foods high in added sugar. Natural sugars are found naturally in whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, dairy foods, and some grains.

FDA Sugar Recommendations

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has provided recommendations for added sugar intake only, not total sugar intake. This recommendation is to not exceed 10 percent of your daily calorie intake from added sugar. Sugar provides 4 calories per gram. Therefore, if you're eating 2,000 calories per day, no more than 200 calories, or 50 grams, should be from added sugar. A 12-ounce can of soda contains 37 grams of sugar, and a cup of vanilla ice cream provides 28 grams of sugar.

Total Carbohydrate Guidelines

Sugars, both natural and added sugars, along with fiber and starches are all forms of carbohydrates. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) provides total carbohydrate recommendations. The IOM suggests adults get at least 130 grams of total carbs daily, but not to exceed 65 percent of their daily intake from carbs. This equates to a maximum total carb allotment of 325 grams daily when following a 2,000-calorie meal plan.

Food Group Recommendations

While it's fine to count grams of added sugar or total carbohydrates, it may be more practical to keep track of foods from food groups instead. According the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), when eating 2,000 calories daily, you should aim for the following portions from each food group:

  • 2 cups of fruits
  • 2.5 cups of vegetables
  • 6 ounces of grains
  • 5.5 ounces of protein foods
  • 3 cups of dairy foods

Bottom Line

It's best to limit added sugar to less than 50 grams daily when eating 2,000 calories per day, and follow the Institute of Medicine's guidelines for your total carbohydrate intake.

Healthy Sugar Intake