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Dispelling Myths

How Much Is Too Much?

1. Why do you recommend that people follow the American Heart Association dietary limit for added sugar when there are others?

Currently, we do not have a federal dietary limit on sugar, like those for salt, trans fats and other food additives. Until we have one, we recommend that people rely on the recommendations of impartial, expert panels convened by nonprofit and governmental authorities. There is, however, a global recommendation provided by the World Health Organization, the health agency of the United Nations. 

The American Heart Association’s guideline is the most frequently used guideline by public health officials. It suggests limiting added sugar to less than 6 teaspoons/day (25 g) for women, 3-6 tsp. (12-25 g) for children, and 9 tsp. (36 g) for men. The World Health Organization limit is fairly similar:  It suggests that we should be consuming no more than 5% of our daily calories in added sugar, which amounts to about 25 g of added sugar in a 2,000-calorie diet. 

A panel convened by the Institute of Medicine recommended the highest dietary limit, that no more than 25% of daily calories should be consumed in added sugar.  We do not support this high a limit because studies have shown that consuming sugar at this level could significantly increase your chance of death from heart disease and stroke ,1 as well as affect your metabolism in ways that put you at risk for a range of chronic diseases.2

2. You say that the average American consumes 19-1/2 teaspoons of added sugar every day.  I’ve heard that it’s 22 teaspoons. Where did you get this number?

The 22 teaspoons figure used to be correct, but Americans have started to cut back on added sugar consumption since then. To provide you with the most accurate and easily understood estimate, we used estimates from representative surveys of the US population conducted by the federal government, called the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2005-2010 (NHANES).3  Our estimate is averaged across men and women.  According to the survey, men tend to consume slightly more added sugar than women, but not enough to be significant.

We converted grams into teaspoons using the following conversion factor: There are 4.2 grams in one teaspoon of granulated sugar.

3. You say the average American consumes 66 pounds of sugar every year.  I’ve heard much different numbers. A lot of people say that we are consuming 150 pounds of sugar per year. Who’s right? 

You may hear many different estimates for how much added sugar Americans consume on a daily basis.  We fact-checked the numbers and are reporting to you what we believe are the most reliable, unbiased estimates.  The 150 lbs. figure refers to total sugar – all the sugars we consume throughout our diet. But the naturally occurring sugars in fruits and milk aren’t a concern for health; only added sugar is a concern. So, we calculated the amount of added sugar in the American diet – and 66 pounds is a lot.

Here’s how we did it: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conduct regular surveys of Americans that carefully measure what we eat, a study called the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). We used data from this survey for the most recent year, 2010, to arrive at our estimates. The CDC data are reported in calories-per-day of added sugar. Since that's not the easiest to figure for people to understand, we converted teaspoons and grams of sugar. There are 16.9 calories and 4.2 grams in a teaspoon of granulated table sugar.

Another source of data comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).  Each year, it quantifies the amount of sugar delivered for use as added sugar by consumers and the food industry.  Then USDA analysts make adjustments for the amount likely to be wasted, to estimate how much we probably consume. When we ran the numbers comparing the CDC and USDA data, we were reassured to find that the estimates were similar, indicating that our reported estimate is pretty reliable.

World Health Organization

The World Health Organization (WHO) is the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system. It is responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health trends. Website: http://www.who.int

SugarScience Glossary

Added sugar

Any sugar added in preparation of foods, either at the table, in the kitchen or in the processing plant. This may include sucrose, high fructose corn syrup and others.

SugarScience Glossary

Heart disease

A broad term for a group of chronic diseases of the heart, these diseases include problems with blood supply to heart muscle, problems with heart valves and the electrical system of the heart. Another term you will see used to mean the same thing is cardiovascular disease.

SugarScience Glossary

Table sugar

Sucrose, also called granulated sugar, is two simple sugars stuck together in a single molecule. Sucrose is made of one fructose and one glucose molecule. On this website, one level teaspoon of table sugar weighs 4.2 grams and has 16.8 calories.

SugarScience Glossary

Trans fats

Also called trans fatty acids. Almost all of these are fats that are added to foods during processing. Trans fats raise bad cholesterol (LD) and decrease good cholesterol (HDL) and raise the chances that you will have heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes

SugarScience Glossary

Chronic diseases

Diseases which last months or years, do not go away on their own, and are usually managed and not cured. For the first time in history diseases that are not caused by infection (non-communicable diseases) are causing more injury and death worldwide than are those caused by infection. In the US this has been true for decades but the rest of the world is catching up as our diet and lifestyle are becoming more common globally.

SugarScience Glossary

Sugars

Sugars are chemicals made of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen found which taste sweet and are found in food. They are an important part of what we eat and drink and of our bodies. On this site, sugar is used to mean simple sugars (monosaccharides) like fructose or glucose, and disaccharides like table sugar (sucrose). Sucrose is two simple sugars stuck together for example (see Table sugar). Sugars are a type of carbohydrate. Carbohydrates are energy sources for our bodies Sugars enter the blood stream very quickly after being eaten.

SugarScience Glossary

Stroke

Rapid loss of blood supply to a portion of the brain causing brain damage. This may lead to difficulty with memory, thought, speech, sensation, and movement. Stroke is usually due to blockage of blood vessels in the neck or brain. It is more common as people age, and is associated with high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.

SugarScience Glossary

SugarScience Facts

Growing scientific evidence shows that too much added sugar, over time, is linked to diabetes, heart disease and liver disease.

SugarScience Facts

Too much added sugar doesn't just make us fat. It can also make us sick.

SugarScience Facts

To make foods "low fat," many food companies replaced the fat with added sugar.

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