Here’s How Much Sugar Is Really OK Per Day, with Expert Doctors’ Guidelines

Updated: May 19, 2024

It's no secret sugar spoons up some sour downsides. Experts reveal how much sugar it's safe to have in a day, according to your biology...and which sugar sources are riskiest.

Sugar is a carbohydrate that naturally sweetens many of our foods and is also added to many processed products to enhance their flavor. While reducing sugar intake is widely recommended for your health, knowing which types of sugar to enjoy, and which to limit, is essential.

There are naturally occurring sugars, like fructose in fruit and lactose in milk, that come bundled with nutrients, fiber, and minerals. On the other hand, added sugars—which can include table sugar, raw sugar, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, and others—are introduced during food processing or preparation. These added sugars deliver tastebud-tingling sweetness, but no nutritional value and unfortunately, even health hazards.

Jessica Tilton, MS, a senior clinical dietitian with the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, explains that while sugar is a primary source of energy, the body processes added sugars differently than added sugars. Added sugars are used up quickly for energy, or else swiftly converted to fat storage. That’s in comparison to the slow energy release from natural sugars found in whole foods, which support hormones, heart and bone health, aid digestion, and contribute to a balanced diet.

Ahead, clinical experts break down how much sugar you should eat in a day to help lower your risk of chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

Here’s how much sugar is safe per day, according to expert doctors

According to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, everyone aged two years and older should keep their added sugar consumption below 10% of their daily calorie intake. For someone following a 2,000-calorie diet, this means no more than 50 grams of added sugar, or approximately 12.5 teaspoons, per day.

The American Heart Association says the daily sugar limit is even more conservative.

  • Men should aim to consume no more than 36 grams (or nine teaspoons, 150 calories) of added sugar daily.
  • Women should aim to consume no more than 25 grams (or six teaspoons, 100 calories) of added sugar daily.

To put this into perspective, a single 12-ounce soda can contain up to 32 grams (eight teaspoons) of added sugar. “If a woman is consuming one of those sodas a day, she’s already gone over on her sugar,” Tilton says.

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How many grams of sugar does the average person eat a day?

Studies reveal that the typical American adult consumes roughly 17 teaspoons of added sugar daily. This amount is well above the recommended limits, almost doubling for men and tripling for women. This amounts to around 60 pounds of added sugar per person each year!

The main culprits of this excessive sugar intake should be no surprise: Sugary drinks like sodas, fruit-flavored beverages, sports and energy drinks, and even flavored coffees and teas, not to mention processed snacks and sweets.

However, sugar also sneaks into snacks often perceived as “healthy,” such as yogurts and granola bars. Depending on their brand and flavor, these might pack around 19 grams of sugar. Check out the amount of Added Sugar on the label to help determine how much sugar is naturally occurring from the product’s ingredients. Also, for a clear visual, divide the “added sugar” amount in grams by four. That reveals the number of teaspoons of added sugar you’re eating per serving.

Regarding sugar in vitamins: Remember to look at your vitamins’ nutrition facts, especially if you prefer gummy vitamins, which can contain two to eight grams of added sugar per serving.

Quiz: Which Food Has More Sugar?

The signs of too much sugar, say experts

Understanding the recommended sugar intake and your actual consumption is an important first step in managing your sugar intake. However, your body might also be sending signals that indicate you’re overdoing it with sugar that can manifest in both the short and long term:

  • Weight gain
  • Blood sugar spikes
  • Cavities and tooth decay
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Acne and eczema
  • Fatigue
  • Cravings for more sugary foods and drinks
  • Heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Impaired cognitive function

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Tips for reducing sugar intake

Making dietary changes can seem like a big hurdle to overcome, but taking small steps can lead to significant improvements. Start by reading food labels to become aware of sugar content, even in products marketed as healthy. “The best advice is to simply eat less sugar,” Tilton says, except for whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, which contain natural sugars, essential nutrients, and fiber your body needs. With these changes, you’ll begin to notice a shift towards better health.

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