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Understanding Added Sugar

What exactly is sugar?

Sugar is a compound that is part of the macronutrient, carbohydrates. These molecules tend to be the smallest and simplest type of carbohydrates. Sugar provides calories or “energy” for our body. There are four calories in one gram of sugar. In other words, there are 4 kcal per 1 gram sugar. When consumed, it can be quickly and easily digested and absorbed in the body, providing a quick energy source. Sugars can be naturally occurring in many foods and beverages; think fruits (fructose) and milk (lactose). However, the majority of sugars in typical American diets are sugar that is added to foods and beverages during processing and preparation for taste, texture, or preservation. A few major sources of added sugars include regular soft drinks, sugar-sweetened cereals, baked goods and candy.

Recommended Sugar Intake

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting the amount of added sugars consumed to no more than half of one’s daily discretionary calories allowance. They focus on all forms of added sugars, not just singling out any particular type of sugar, such as high-fructose corn syrup.



For women, no more than: 100 calories/day, 25 grams = 6 teaspoons
For men, no more than: 150 calories/day, 36 grams = 9 teaspoons
For children, the limits per day can vary by age, but ranges from: 48 – 100 calories/day, 12-25 grams = 3 – 6 teaspoons

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming less than 10% of daily calories from added sugars.

Excessive Consumption

Currently, most Americans exceed the recommended limits of added sugar in their diet on a daily basis. On average, Americans are consuming more than 13% of total calories (~270 calories) per day from added sugars. Consumption is particularly high amongst children, adolescents and young adults.

How is this Affecting the Body?

When sugar is consumed, the body does not distinguish whether it is naturally occurring or added. However, sugars that are found naturally in foods are part of that food’s whole package of nutrients, meaning dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that are beneficial to one’s health. In contrast, foods high in added sugars often supply calories, but few to no essential nutrients or dietary fiber. Studies are showing that added sugars may contribute to a diet that is energy-dense, while being nutrient-poor, increasing the risk of developing obesity, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, obesity-related cancers and dental cavities.