Sugar: How Much Is Too Much?

Too much sugar is bad for health, but how much is too much?

The accepted guideline is that added sugars should not make up more than 10 percent of your total energy intake for the day, although, many nutritionists will recommend even less than this.

How much is "10 percent"? Well, in a 2000-calorie-a-day diet, 10 percent would be equal to about 50 grams, or 10 teaspoons of sugar. Unfortunately, most Americans consume 30 to 40 teaspoons or more of refined sugar per day. Most of this sugar comes from food products to which sugar has been added, such as soda, candy and baked goods. A can of soda alone can contain around 10 teaspoons of added sugar! So in general, if you've had a can of soda, you've had as much added sugar as is healthy for the day.

Naturally-occurring sugars, such as those in an apple or a glass of milk, are not included in the less-than-10-percent-a-day recommendation. Naturally-occurring sugars affect your body differently because they come as part of a “whole food” package, including fiber and other nutrients. You don’t need to watch your intake of these sugars - except as part of your overall calories.

Sugar substitutes such as saccharin, cyclamate and aspartame contain negligible calories and can be helpful for people trying to limit sugar intake but should be used in moderation. The top three sugar substitutes - Equal®, Sweet'N Low® and Splenda® – are all FDA-approved. Sweeteners such as fructose, sorbitol, and mannitol are not low in calories, but might be used as a sugar substitute for people with diabetes.