Every diet, whether faddish or sensible, recommends cutting back on sugar.  Even if your weight is fine, sugar reduction is top-of-mind when you’re talking about strategies to improve your diet and health.

The World Health Organization recommends cutting sugar to 10% of calories, but strongly encourages no more than 5%.  The 2020 US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s recent recommendations were to keep added sugar calories to a max of 6% of total calories. 

What The Heck Does “6% Of Total Calories” Look Like? 

Using a 2000-calorie “reference diet”, which is just an average amount of calories needed by the “average person” (and that’s an average of men’s and women’s needs, so very general), it means added sugar would be limited to 6% of 2000 calories, or 120 calories a day.  Looked at in grams, it’s about 30 grams of added sugar, just a tad over one ounce!

That’s a modest amount, compared to the 93 grams – about 372 calories – that the “average” person eats each day now.  It adds up to 75 pounds of sugar in a year – more than triple what is recommended.

It’s Not All Bad

On the plus side, we’re eating less than we have in 20 years.  A recent analysis from the Pew Research Institute found that, in 1999, “each person consumed an average of 90.2 pounds of added caloric sweeteners a year,” or about 449 calories a day. 

A decline of 75 sugar calories a day is great, but we have a long way to go to meet up with current recommendations.

Where Are Our 93 Grams/day Of Sugar Coming From?

Media will have you believing that added sugar is everywhere, in our cereals, yogurt, even in condiments like ketchup and, salad dressing.  But the vast majority of our added sugar comes from 2 sources: sugary drinks, and empty-calorie sweets.  Let’s look at the data

Beverages 47%
Mixed Dishes6%
Dairy (milk/yogurt/kefir)4%
Fruit Juice1%


How “Empty” Is Your Diet?

Some quick math tells us that calories from beverages like soda, powdered drink mixes, fruit-flavored drinks, and sports and energy drinks along with sweets like pastries and candy add up to 78% of our added sugar calories.  These are all “empty-calories” because they deliver just calories, and few, if any, nutrients, even if they’re homemade and really taste good.  Note: 100% fruit juice has no added sugar, so isn’t included here.

We can also see that 22% of added sugar calories are coming from other foods, including dairy, grains, fruits and veggies, and mixed dishes (think a little added sugar to the sauce in the frozen lasagna, that sort of thing).

Getting Cultured & Grainy

The breakfast cereal you worry about?  The sugar in your yogurt?  The chocolate milk your kids And many of us adults) like? These are in the grains and dairy groups and here’s why probably don’t need to be concerned with the added sugar here:

  1. These foods are loaded with nutrients, and
  2. These food categories are providing only 12% of the added sugars in most diets.

That 12% is important.  It means that, of our 75 grams of daily added sugar, only 12%, or about 9 grams, is coming from those foods. 

Added Sugar: Cutting Back Is Easier Than You Think

A little more math: 22% of the 93 grams of average daily added sugar intake amounts to 21 grams/84 calories.  That’s even less than the 30 grams/120 calories recommended by the US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee!

If you choose to “spend” your 120 calories of added sugar each day on foods like whole-grain sweetened cereal and/or fat-free yogurt, you won’t hear a word from this nutritionist.  Indeed, a little added sugar can help drive consumption of nutrient-rich foods.  Personally, I favor Greek yogurt because it’s higher in protein, and usually has even less added sugar.  That’s quibbling though.  The choice is yours. 

As for where to spend those leftover other 9 grams of added sugar, followers of CutToTheChaseNutrition.com know of my fondness for dark chocolate.  An ounce of 70% chocolate will have about 9 grams of added sugar.  Done. And happy!