How Many Grams of Sugar Should You Consume Per Day?

Granulated sugar in a bowl.

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Considering sugar is so ever-present and found in many of the foods we eat, especially in irresistible desserts and treats, many people have a hard time escaping sugar cravings and limiting their daily sugar intake.

Don't worry, a little bit of sugar won’t hurt you, and sometimes it can be just what you need, but if you find yourself struggling with sugar intake, it’s worth understanding what sugar is, how much sugar you should eat each day, and what too much can do to your body. 

What Is Sugar? 

First, let’s define sugar, which has become a rather ambiguous term despite a clear scientific meaning.

Sugar

As defined by science, sugar is simply “any monosaccharide or disaccharide, used especially by organisms to store energy.”

For a jargon-free definition, consider Merriam-Webster’s “sugar” entry, which defines sugar as “a sweet crystallizable material” that is an “important as a source of dietary carbohydrate.”

As you can gather from those definitions, sugar isn’t as evil as some people view it. It’s just a combination of elements that gives your body energy and happens to taste sweet.

Chemical Composition of Sugar

Chemically speaking, “sugar” refers to any carbohydrate with the formula Cn(H2O)n. The “C” represents carbon and, as you probably know, “H2O” represents water.

Sugar as most people know it is in the form of sucrose and sucrose has a different molecular structure which is C12H22O11. Sugar is "the most basic, fundamental unit of a carbohydrate."

Types of Sugar 

Sugars can exist in the form of monosaccharides or disaccharides. Monosaccharides are simple sugars, while disaccharides are complex sugars. Either way, it’s still sugar.

You may have also heard the terms oligosaccharide and polysaccharide, which refer to chains of monosaccharides. Oli- and polysaccharides are not considered sugars, but instead complex carbohydrates.

Other Names for Sugar

Despite there being only two types of sugar in a chemical sense, sugar goes by many names. In fact, if you walk through your local grocery store and check the labels of different packaged foods, you might see sugar disguised by as many as 50 (or more) names. 

Here are some common names for sugar: 

  • Sucrose
  • High fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
  • Fructose 
  • Cane sugar 
  • Agave nectar
  • Coconut sugar
  • Beet sugar
  • Molasses
  • Raw sugar
  • Sorghum syrup
  • Dextrose
  • Dextrin
  • Maltose 

Recommended Sugar Intake 

Different health agencies have different sugar consumption guidelines, but the overall gist remains the same—enjoy sugar when appropriate, but don’t eat too much. Also, read nutrition labels to look for added sugars. Added sugars are added during processing and are different than sugar that occurs naturally in foods.

Take a look at the recommended sugar intake guidelines from two major health agencies below. 

U.S. Dietary Guidelines Recommendation

Every five years, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) releases an updated set of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The 2020-2025 dietary guidelines stipulate that less than 10 percent of daily calories should come from added sugar.

On a 2,000-calorie diet, that means less than 200 calories should come from added sugar. Sugar contains four calories per gram, so the dietary guidelines effectively state that you should eat no more than 50 grams of added sugar per day.

Many people don't realize how easy it is to surpass 50 grams of sugar per day. For example, if you enjoy drinking soda, a single bottle of Coca-Cola can leave you with just 11 grams of sugar left for the day and eating a bowl of cereal can easily provide those 11 grams.

American Heart Association Guidelines

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends people consume less than what the U.S. HSS recommends. The AHA suggests men consume no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams or 150 calories) of added sugar per day and that women consume no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams or 100 calories) per day.

Ultimately, the amount of sugar you should eat each day depends on your health status, medical conditions and health and fitness goals.

Do Alternative Sweeteners Count Toward Sugar Intake?

It depends on how you define “alternative sweetener.” Truly artificial sweeteners, such as sucralose (Splenda), saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low) and aspartame (Equal), don’t count toward your total daily intake of sugar, because they aren’t sugar and your body doesn’t process them like sugar. 

Other alternative sweeteners without calories, such as monk fruit extract and stevia, also don’t contain calories and don’t contribute to your sugar consumption. 

However, sugar by names other than “sugar” is still sugar, even if you think you’re using an alternative sweetener. For example, turbinado is just raw, unbleached sugar. Don’t let fancy or unfamiliar names trick you into thinking you’re using an artificial, low-calorie or zero-calorie sweetener.  

Also, before you replace all of your sugar-sweetened foods and drinks with artificially sweetened versions, it’s worth reading up on how artificial sweeteners affect your body (and how they might not help with weight loss after all).

How Sugar Affects Your Body 

Your body needs sugar to complete most of its functions, but too much sugar can have consequences for your health. 

How Sugar Affects Your Heart

Previously, health experts thought a high-fat diet was to blame for heart disease. While the types of fats and the amount of fat you consume can impact your risk for heart disease, new research also suggests that a high sugar diet can also impact your risk for heart disease.

According to a 15-year study looking at the risk of heart disease in men, those who consumed more added sugar had a much higher risk of dying of heart disease than those who ate less added sugar.

Additionally, excess sugar consumption is associated with many heart disease risk factors, including obesity, high body fat percentage, high blood pressure, and sedentary living.

How Sugar Affects Your Brain

Research shows that excess sugar can harm your brain acutely and in the long term. In the short term, sugar intake may reduce your ability to focus, but over the long haul, too much sugar can hinder your brain’s memory and learning processes and contribute to cognitive decline.

How Sugar Affects Your Mood

Sugar has been linked to depression, among other mental disorders. Excess sugar consumption, especially from highly processed foods, may contribute to the development of depressive disorders, anxiety, stress, mood swings, and more.

How Sugar Affects Your Body Composition

Eating too much sugar can negatively impact your body composition, the ratio of fat mass to lean mass in your body. Body composition is affected by a number of factors, such as total calorie intake and exercise level, but your sugar consumption is an easy variable to manipulate if you’re looking to improve your body fat percentage.

Monitoring Sugar Intake 

If you think you currently consume too much sugar, monitoring your sugar intake is the first step to reducing it. Take inventory of your typical diet and then identify areas of improvement.

Foods High in Sugar

Monitoring your sugar intake starts with knowing which foods are high in sugar (and reading nutrition labels when you aren’t sure). Sugar is found in many foods, both natural and processed. Some foods may surprise you with their sugar content. 

Some common foods and drinks high in sugar include: 

  • Yogurt
  • White bread
  • Snacks like pretzels and crackers 
  • Sauces, dressings and condiments
  • Flavored beef jerky
  • Soft drinks
  • Sports drinks
  • Granola, cereal and individually portioned oatmeal
  • Protein bars and granola bars
  • Canned soup
  • Commercially-prepared nut butters

The above list isn’t exhaustive, so it’s best to always read labels on foods if you’re trying to lower your sugar consumption. Also, keep in mind that not all food items in the above categories are high in sugar.

There are plenty of lower sugar or no sugar added yogurts to choose from, such as plain Greek yogurt. And yogurts made with unsweetened nut-milks are natually lower in sugar. The same goes for bread, sauces, beverages and other items on the above list.

Monitoring Sugar for Diabetes

For those people with pre-diabetes or diabetes, being mindful of sugar intake as well as total carbohydrate intake is important for managing blood sugar. Excess sugar intake is a controllable risk factor for Type 2 diabetes, but the good news is that it’s preventable and possibly reversible.

Monitoring Sugar for Weight Loss

If you’re trying to lose weight, reducing your sugar consumption is one simple way to make progress. The research is clear: Excess sugar intake, especially from foods with added sugars (i.e., not naturally occurring), is linked to obesity and related diseases.

However, it’s worth noting that becoming hyper-focused on sugar can have detrimental effects to your relationship with food. Plus, eating sugar-free or low-sugar foods won’t always improve your health. Many foods with those labels use artificial sweeteners, which may not agree with your body, or make up for the lost sugar by adding fats or other ingredients for taste. 

Monitoring Sugar for Mood

Diet is known to affect mood and mental state, as evidenced by a field of study called nutritional psychiatry. In particular, processed foods high in added sugar may cause low moods or mood swings, or even contribute to mood disorders including depression and anxiety. 

While the connection between sugar consumption and mood disorders isn’t completely cut-and-dry, if you tend to struggle with your mood (especially with anxiety, depression or stress), you may want to consider reducing your sugar intake. 

Monitoring Sugar for Digestive Health 

Sugar affects your digestion in many ways, but it especially impacts the health of your microbiome (the colony of trillions of microbes living along your gastrointestinal tract).

While the bacteria in your gut do need sugar to feed on, too much sugar and sugar from highly processed foods has been linked to an increase in bad gut bacteria and a decrease in gut diversity (both of which lead to gastrointestinal distress). 

Reducing sugar intake may help people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and other gastrointestinal diseases find relief from symptoms, too.

Monitoring Sugar for Other Conditions

In general, reduced consumption of added sugars benefits your health. So, if you struggle with any sort of medical or psychological condition, you may find relief from symptoms by reducing your sugar intake.

Talk with your doctor about the possibilities and, together, make a sugar-reduction plan that suits your current lifestyle and health status. 

Monitoring Sugar for Fitness

On the flip side, if you lead a very active life, you may not want to reduce your sugar intake. Sugar can be very helpful for people who exercise often, complete in athletic competitions or enjoy active hobbies.

This is especially true when you time your sugar intake to best support your activity levels. For example, if you plan to run a marathon, eating sugar before and during the race can keep your energy levels up and facilitate muscular endurance for the event.

How To Eat Less Sugar

If you want to cut down on your sugar consumption, start by limiting your intake of obvious sources. This means limiting cake, candy, ice cream, sugar sweetened beverages (such as juice, soda, sweetened coffee drinks, energy drinks) and other similar foods.

To take it a step further, start checking the labels of everyday foods, such as crackers, pretzels, cereal, granola and other prepackaged items. Make healthy swaps or reduce your consumption of packaged foods high in sugar.

Finally, make an effort to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, protein and healthy fats. If you focus on those food groups, you’ll have little room left for added sugar.

A Word From Verywell

Sugar has its place in a healthy, well-rounded diet, especially for active people. Plus, many healthy foods contain sugar, such as fruits, vegetables and grains.

However, too much added sugar negatively impacts your health, so it’s not a bad idea to monitor your sugar consumption to get an idea of how much sugar you consume daily—and reduce your intake if needed.

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