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For Immediate Release: November 13, 2009

NN: A Call to Reduce Added Sugars by 30 to 50 Percent

Nutrition Notes
Week of December 7, 2009
Contact: Alice Bender, (202) 328-7744

A Call to Reduce Added Sugars by 30 to 50 Percent

Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

For heart-healthy eating, there’s a new recommendation on how much added sugars adults should consume, and it translates into reducing current consumption by about 30 to 50 percent. The recommendations are clear, but they won’t necessarily simplify food choices, because many labels make it impossible to identify added sugar. For most of us, meeting the recommendations may come down to learning a few “choose this or that, not both” guidelines.

“Added sugars” refers to the sugar, honey or syrup you add to food, and also the corn syrup, molasses, dextrose and all other calorie-containing sweeteners added in processing foods. The new recommendations say most women should consume no more than about 100 calories (equal to 25 grams) of added sugar daily, and most men no more than 150 calories (about 38 grams). Recommended limits do not include naturally occurring sugars in fruit or dairy products because these foods provide valuable nutrition, and have not been associated with the health risks from added sugars.

Research now links diets high in added sugars with increased blood triglycerides, fat circulating through the blood that increases risk of stroke and heart attack. Some evidence also links added sugar consumption with low HDL (“good”) cholesterol and increased inflammation, though results are mixed.

Obesity, also tied to added sugar consumption, is a primary risk factor not only for heart disease, but also for certain cancers. The 2007 expert report from the American Institute for Cancer Research recommends avoiding sugary drinks because high-sugar foods and drinks are linked with obesity. Studies now demonstrate that high amounts of added sugar in foods may also disrupt the hunger and satiety signals that help us know when we’ve had enough to eat.

When most of our foods are high nutrient and low-calorie, we can maintain or move toward a healthy weight and still include some foods without nutritional benefits such as sweets, alcohol and unhealthy fats. Classified as “discretionary calories,” these foods have caused much of the increase in calorie consumption seen in recent years. The amount of discretionary calories most adults can eat without weight gain ranges from 130 to 400 calories a day.

For some of us, simply reducing “discretionary calories” to an appropriate level might be a simpler goal than targeting the new recommended cap on added sugars, and it may be just as beneficial. You can see a personal estimate of your discretionary calories at the federal MyPyramid Web siteexternal site. If you want to have room for more discretionary calories, get more active. Moving from a sedentary to a more active lifestyle will let you add about 100 to 150 discretionary calories daily.

For some people, added sugars may pose unique health problems. Overweight people, especially with excess waistline fat, and those with diabetes, low physical activity, or low dietary fiber consumption may be most at risk for high blood triglycerides and blood sugar if they consume a diet high in added sugars.

Sugar-sweetened drinks are the top source of added sugars for most Americans, and one 12-ounce can of regular soda with 150 calories and 41 grams of added sugars sends almost everybody over the recommended daily limit on added sugars. To see how added sugars in your other food choices stack up, check the USDA database of added sugar content (pdf file)external site. You can check ingredients and added sugars in many foods on their Nutrition Facts panel. But labels won’t help consumers looking at foods with added fruit, such as dairy products and cereals, because you can’t tell how much of the sugar listed is naturally in the foods and how much is added.

Until more label information is available, perhaps the simplest approach is to avoid sugar-sweetened drinks and work toward satisfying your sweet tastes with fruit and small amounts of added sugar in whole grain cereal, soups or other high-nutrient foods. If you eat sweets daily, wean yourself to perhaps two or three a week.


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