Added Sugar Recommendations

In 2008, the American Heart Association released new recommendations for added sugar consumption. With the recently released changes to food labels which includes listing “added sugars”, I think understanding the sugar recommendations will help you navigate food labels more easily.  


The added sugar recommendations were in response to data showing that heart issues are not only related to high cholesterol and saturated fat intake but also to high refined carbohydrate intake.  This is interesting since in the past fat as been the macronutrient that has been villainized. But looking at the data over the past few decades, intakes of protein and fat have either stayed the same or gone down. So all these extra calories are coming from carbohydrates; not whole grains unfortunately, but refined sugary foods.


The average American consumes about 300-350 extra calories per day in added sugars. This is equivalent to 79 grams or 22 tsp of sugar (1 tsp is equivalent to 4 grams of sugar). The new recommendations are 100 calories, 24 grams or 6 tsp for women and 150 calories, 36 grams or 9 tsp for men. To give you some perspective, one 12-oz can of soda has 33 grams of sugar.


Giving up all sugar and sweetners does not necessarily mean that you will have greater health.  Please recognize that keeping your added sugars and sweeteners at this amount will be heart protective without needing to be overly worried about having no sugar.  You are obviously free to do what you feel is best, but the evidenced based recommendation is and has always been to practice moderation and balance instead of becoming overly rigid and militant (which in my experience can lead to food anxiety and disordered eating behaviors).  


Also, to be clear, this does not include naturally occurring sugars found in dairy products or fruit. These recommendations are for sugars added during processing. So to aid you in cutting back on added sugar, here are some guidelines for packaged foods:



  • 6 grams or less per serving
  • All sugar found in grains is added. There are no naturally occurring sugars found.



  • Fruit is natures candy! No added sugar is needed.
  • You can’t read sugar on the nutrition facts label for an accurate view of what is added or what is natural. The only way you will be able to tell is to read the ingredient list and make sure there aren’t any added sweeteners.



  • Usually added sugars come in flavored milks and yogurts.
  • Again, as with fruit, you won’t be able to read sugar on the nutrition facts since some is natural and some may be added.
  • Ideally, buy unsweetened milks and yogurts. If you do want sweetened yogurt, make sure total sugar is below 20 grams. For a 6-8 oz portion of yogurt, about 6-12 grams will be natural while the rest is added.


To figure out how much sugar is added, you will look under “total carbohydrates” on the nutrition label (the new food labels effective in July of 2018, will listed added sugars for you). For example:


Regular Cheerios have 1 gram of sugar. This meets the criteria of 6 grams or less


On the other hand, Kashi GoLean Crunch has 13 grams of sugar. This will be 3 tsp, or half of a women’s daily allotment. While some Kashi cereals will be lower, you will need to read the label.


For dried, frozen, canned fruit or fruit juice, read the ingredient list. You can see here that sugar is added.

7d dried mangoes ingredients

On the other hand, the ingredient list here is only dried mangoes. Score!

TJs mango

To compare yogurts, Chobani brand will meet the recommendation of less than 20 grams of sugar. Other brands may as well. But you will notice that numbers vary. Ideally go for the plain where all sugars are naturally occurring. But the vanilla will be much lower in sugar than the peach, honey, strawberry or blueberry.


So if the plain has 6 grams of sugar, these are all natural. If you were to choose the vanilla, we know that 6 grams are natural so 7 grams will be added, or about 2 tsp. If you were to choose blueberry and 6 grams are natural, 14 grams will be added or about 3.5 tsp.


Yoplait brand lists 27 grams of sugar. If 6 are natural, 21 grams are added. This is almost as much added sugar as a women should have in one day. 

yoplait original harvest peach nutr

You can see that there will not be a lot of room for sugary Starbucks drinks, ice cream, treats…they may just not be able to be regular daily occurrences.


I hope you found this helpful in sorting out added vs natural sugar. This will be easier once “added sugars” is included, but the recommendations still reamin. I encourage you to take steps in order to cut back on added sugar in your meals. I know that you will not only feel better but you will also notice changes in your health and weight. But more importantly you will start to notice the natural flavors of food. 


Emily Fonnesbeck RD,CD