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USDA Recommended Sugar Intake

By Janet Renee, MS, RD

The U.S. Department of Agriculture publishes nutrition guidelines every five years to provide Americans with the information needed to make healthy food choices. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 places emphasis on food components to reduce in your diet, and added sugar is among them. Most Americans consume more than the recommended amount of sugar, which contributes non-nutritive calories.

Defining Added Sugars

Your body uses glucose as a fuel source; your brain is particularly dependent on a steady supply. The small amount of sugar that occurs naturally in fruit, vegetables and other whole foods is unlikely to pose a health problem. However, issues arise when you consume too much sugar added to foods during processing or preparation. For this reason, sugar intake guidelines refer specifically to added sugar. Eating too much added sugar can contribute to weight gain and increase your risk for chronic diseases.

Major Sources

Americans get an average of 16 percent of their calories from added sugar. The top sources of added sugar in the American diet include soda, energy drinks and sports drinks, grain-based desserts, sugar-sweetened fruit drinks, dairy desserts and candy, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. Together, added sugar and solid fats contribute a significant amount of calories to the typical diet and decrease the overall nutrition content. Controlling your added sugar intake will decrease the overall calories you consume each day.

Added Sugar Guidelines

It's recommended that added sugars together with solid fats make up no more than 5 to 15 percent of your daily calories, according to the Guidelines for Americans 2010. For someone following a 2,000 calorie diet, this equals 100 to 300 calories. The American Heart Association provides more specific recommendations. Aim to limit added sugars to no more than 100 calories, if you're female and 150 calories, if you're male, recommends the AHA. This is equivalent to 6 teaspoons of added sugars for woman and 9 teaspoons for men.

Cutting Back on Added Sugar

Added sugar is found in a wide variety of processed food and comes in many forms. Common types of added sugar include high-fructose corn syrup, white and brown sugar, corn syrup solids, malt sugar, maple, fructose, honey, molasses, dextrose and raw sugar. Start cutting back on the major sources, such as soda and replace processed sweets with healthier options, such as fruit. Small changes such as eating an orange instead of drinking an orange sugar-sweetened fruit drink can have a big effect.

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