New Guidelines for Added Sugars

The American Heart Association has come out with new challenge: Limit added sugars to no more than 25g (about 6 tsp) per day for women and 36g a day for men.  Right now, we consume on average around three and a half times that much.

Where did they come up with the numbers?

The AHA reasons that “excessive consumption of added sugars is contributing to over-consumption of discretionary calories,” which, in turn, leads to obesity and increases heart disease risk.  Discretionary calories are the ones we eat just for the fun of it and not necessarily to meet our nutritional needs. The USDA dietary guidelines recommend that these discretionary calories should be limited to 10% of total calories. The AHA figures that added sugars should make up no more than half of the discretionary calorie allowance.

This new recommendation sets the bar on added sugars even lower than the “10% of calories” limit that was suggested a few years back by the World Health Organization.

True confessions

I have to be perfectly honest with you: I’d have to make some changes in my diet in order to limbo under the new 25g bar. I don’t drink soda, which is the primary source of added sugars for most Americans.  And I don’t eat a whole lot of processed foods.  But I do enjoy ice cream. I often bake muffins or make granola for breakfast. I have a square of chocolate after dinner most nights. It adds up quickly.

What counts as an added sugar?

Of course, it depends on what you count.  Most sources agree that naturally occurring sugars in fruit and dairy don’t count as added sugars.  I agree.

Many try to argue that “natural” sugars like honey or molasses also shouldn’t count, but I don’t see why.  Honey, molasses, maple syrup, agave syrup, refined white sugar, brown sugar, and organic cane sugar are all concentrated sources of sugar. Some are more refined than others, but the nutritional and metabolic impacts are similar.  In other words, I’m not off the hook simply because I make my granola with honey. It’s still a source of added sugar in my diet. Here’s my recipe for granola by the way.  Each serving contains 9g of added sugar.

Adding it up

It’s fairly easy to keep track of the sugars that we add ourselves, whether at the table or in the mixing bowl. The real trick is keeping track of the sugars in processed foods. Check the ingredient lists for sugar and all its aliases (such as corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, honey, maltose, malt syrup, molasses, sucrose, and syrup). The higher up these are in the list, and/or the more of them you see listed, the more sugar the food contains.

The nutrition facts label has a line for “total sugars” and you can use this to keep a tally, but keep in mind that this number includes the natural sugars in fruit and dairy as well as added sugar (honey, etc.).

For example, a container of fruited low-fat yogurt contains 47grams (!) of sugars. However, a container of plain low-fat yogurt contains 17g of naturally-occurring sugar.  That means that the fruited yogurt has 30g of “added” sugars.  Oops…you’re already over the limit.

It’d be a bit trickier to sort out the natural versus added sugars in something like a store-bought oatmeal raisin cookie. But you get the idea.

So, how hard would it be for you to limit yourself to 25 grams of added sugar a day? How hard would it be if you also avoided artificial sweeteners?

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