New Guidelines For Sugar—And How To Scale Back

Every five years the federal government releases new Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These guidelines are designed to help all Americans eat a healthier diet—it’s also a key resource for health professionals and is the basis of everything from school lunch programs to our very own Let’s Go! strategies. In addition to the continued recommendation to eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins, and to limit sodium and saturated fat, for the very first time the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines make a clear recommendation about the exact amount of added sugar we should consume each day.

According to the 2015 guideline: Less than 10% of daily calories should come from added sugars. Added simply means the guideline does not include sugars naturally found in products like milk and fruits.

The American Academy of Pediatrics welcomed the guideline and here at Let’s Go! we let out three cheers for the additional evidence and continued support of the work we do each day to promote healthy habits in our children.

Our Current Added Sugar vs. The New 10% Recommendation

Currently, the average American adult consumes about 22 teaspoons of added sugar—that’s nearly 90 grams—every day! The graph below highlights that: 

  • For adults, added sugar currently makes up about 13% of daily calories
  • For teens, added sugar currently makes up about 17% of daily calories
  • For children, added sugar currently makes up nearly 12% of daily calories  

So what exactly does the recommended 10% of your daily calories really mean?
For an adult consuming 2,000 calories a day, you can measure sugar in either teaspoons or grams:

  • For teaspoons:
    10% of your daily calories = about 12 teaspoons of added sugar
    To put that in perspective, a can of Coke contains nearly 10 teaspoons!
  • For grams:
    10% of your daily calories = about 48 grams of added sugar (1 teaspoon = about 4 grams)
    You can add up grams of sugar on all nutritional labels

Where Our Added Sugars Come From

In order to better understand how we can get to the 10% recommendation, it’s important to understand where added sugars are sneaking in to our everyday diet:


The major sources of added sugars (78%!) are beverages (including fruit drinks, soft drinks, sweetened coffee and tea, energy drinks, alcoholic beverages, and flavored waters), and snacks/sweets. This evidence further supports why Let’s Go! advocates for 0 sugary drinks, more water and encourages limiting unhealthy choices for snacks and celebrations in order to establish healthy habits for our children.

There are also an abundance of everyday items that include added sugar where you might least expect it, including:

  • Bowl of Corn Flakes: over 6 grams of added sugar
  • Fruit-Flavored Yogurt: over 11 grams of added sugar
  • Italian Salad Dressing: nearly 7 grams of added sugar
  • Smooth Peanut Butter: 3 grams of added sugar
  • Granola Bars: over 20 grams of added sugar
  • Spaghetti Sauce: 6.5 grams of added sugar
  • Fruit Cocktail (canned in light syrup): over 6 grams of added sugar
    Based on recommended single serving size.To find out how many of your daily calories are coming from added sugars, you can add up the grams of sugar in all nutritional labels.


Healthy Tips For Achieving The 10% Guideline!

Now that we know how to calculate our own 10% added sugar consumption, and where to look for sneaky sugars, here are some healthy tips to jump start your mission to achieve the 10% guideline for you and your family!

  • Add fruit to fizzy water for a special soda replacement.
  • Let your kids shake up their own low-sugar dressing or dips. These can last in the fridge all week.
  • Become a sugar detective! While at the store, you and your kids can check for mysterious added sugar code names on boxes, like: fructose, corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, sucrose, and dextrose. If you see these names, be aware that you are consuming your daily intake of added sugar.
  • Try no-bake energy balls to replace sugary sweets/snacks and give you and your family an all-natural pick me up!