Sugar Math Misconceptions

Recently, a dietitian reader reached out to us with some old information about people’s recommended intake of added sugars. This interaction made me realize how much misinformation is still out there about sugar, so I want to set the record straight right now.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that people “Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugars.”

That recommendation can be hard for people to apply in their daily lives if they struggle with calculating their total calorie intake and then what 10% of that number would be, so my team and I did a little math to  make the guidelines’ recommendation clearer to consumers.

Here’s what we did…

  • We found that the average daily calorie intake for most Americans is roughly 2,000 calories per day.
  • We calculated how many calories make up 10% of that daily intake.
  • We converted the number of calories to grams of added sugars so that people could easily calculate how much a food would impact this upper limit by using the Nutrition Facts label.
  • Just for fun, we also converted that amount to teaspoons of sugar. That way, people would have one more strategy for applying these numbers to their own lives.

All that math revealed that people should get no more than 200 calories per day from added sugars. That’s only 50 grams of added sugars per day! Since there are 4 grams of sugar in a teaspoon, that comes out to only 12.5 daily teaspoons.

We put all that information into our eye-catching Sugar Math poster and a tearpad to match. Take a look!

The information on which we based all these calculations has been supported by MyPlate, which is a publication of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, also known as the USDA.

And of course, the fun doesn’t stop there!

We then delved into the sources of added sugars in the American diet, figuring that knowing the top sources of hidden sugars in an eating pattern would be useful for consumers who are looking to follow the new sugar limits. We poured a lot of that knowledge into the Sugar Math poster and tearpad, along with the Are You Drinking Candy? poster and handout set. The lollipops in the latter really highlight how many added sugars are in a variety of common drinks. See for yourself!

Anyway, I just wanted to shine a light on some of the latest information about added sugars and empty calories. Misconceptions can lurk where you least expect them, but they sure are great teaching opportunities!

Oh, and here is a closer look at some sugar resources that my team and I have made…

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updated on 11-22-2017