Sugar & the Diet

Sugar Intake Recommendations

What is moderation?

Moderation means different things to different people, but when it comes to what we eat it always means making choices that fit within a healthy, balanced, and enjoyable diet. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the World Health Organization suggest a target intake of added sugars and free sugars, respectively, of up to 10 percent of total calories.
Sweet Glaze offers guidance on balanced meals such as this one.

Added sugars intake can be presented in teaspoons (tsp), grams (g), calories (kcals) or % of total calories. In a 2,000 calorie diet, the Dietary Guidelines recommendation translates to: 12 tsp, 50 g, 200 kcals, 10% of total calories.

Defining Moderation

Since 1980, the U.S. Government has published Dietary Guidelines for Americans, updating them every five years. In each version of the guidelines, there has been a general recommendation for Americans to moderate intake of sugars. The 2015–20201 Dietary Guidelines for Americans were the first guidelines to quantify moderation, recommending Americans limit added sugars  to less than 10 percent of calories per day, and the added sugars recommendation remains the same in the current version of the guidelines.2 This is consistent with the 2015 World Health Organization (WHO) guideline, which recommends adults and children reduce their daily intake of free sugars to less than 10 percent of their total energy intake.3

The U.S. Dietary Guideline recommendation for added sugars is based on food pattern modeling (a tool used to figure out how you can meet all your food group recommendations within calorie needs), and the 10 percent target is an attempt to help individuals move toward healthy eating patterns within calorie limits. While other recommendations exist,4 the Dietary Guidelines for Americans are the cornerstone of federal nutrition policy and nutrition education efforts. For more information about the dietary guidelines, including MyPlate resources, visit

Most of the calories a person needs to eat each day—around 85 percent—are needed to meet food group recommendations healthfully, in nutrient-dense forms. The remaining calories—around 15 percent—are calories available for other uses, including for added sugars or saturated fat beyond the small amounts found in nutrient-dense forms of foods and beverages within the pattern, to consume more than the recommended amount of a food group, or for alcoholic beverages.

Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020–20252

A healthy dietary pattern limits added sugars to less than 10 percent of calories per day. Added sugars can help with preservation; contribute to functional attributes such as viscosity, texture, body, color, and browning capability, and/or help improve the palatability of some nutrient-dense foods. In fact, the nutrient-dense choices included in the Healthy U.S.-Style Dietary Pattern are based on availability in the U.S. food supply and include 17-50 calories from added sugars, or 1.5-2 percent of total calories.

Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020–20252

Overall, the public health recommendation about ‘added sugars’ must be balanced with the reality that sugar added to food is an important piece in the food science puzzle given its several functionalities in food. Not only can a spoonful of sugar help the medicine go down, but it can help fruit, vegetable and fiber go down as well.

Goldfien KR, Slavin JL. 20155

A small amount of added sugars, saturated fat, or sodium can be added to nutrient-dense foods and beverages to help meet food group recommendations, but foods and beverages high in these components should be limited.

Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020–20252


  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at: Accessed April 10, 2018.
  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. Available at Accessed January 14, 2021.
  3. World Health Organization. Guideline: Sugars Intake for Adults and Children. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO; 2015.
  4. Johnson RK, Appel LJ, Brands M, et al. Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2009;120(11):1011–1020.
  5. Goldfein KR, Slavin JL. Why Sugar is Added to Food: Food Science 101. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. 2015;14(5):644-656.
Sugar & the Diet
Nutrition Policy

Dietary Guidelines for Americans

What are the current recommendations for sugar?

Learn More

Stay in Touch

Sign Up