Sugar & the Diet

Sugar in Moderation

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 suggest a target intake of added sugars of up to 10% of total calories.
What is Moderation

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 no more than 10% of calories per day. This recommendation 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% target is an attempt to help individuals move toward healthy eating patterns within calorie limits. While other recommendations exist2,3, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans are the cornerstone of Federal nutrition policy and nutrition education efforts. For more information about the dietary guidelines, visit

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.

Choose a healthy eating pattern at an appropriate calorie level to help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, support nutrient adequacy, and reduce the risk of chronic disease…To meet nutrient needs within calorie limits, choose a variety of nutrient-dense foods across and within all food groups in recommended amounts.

Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015–20201

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. 20154

Added sugars provide sweetness that can help improve the palatability of foods, help with preservation, and/or contribute to functional attributes such as viscosity, texture, body, color, and browning capability.

Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015–20201


  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. 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.
  3. World Health Organization. Guideline: Sugars Intake for Adults and Children. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO; 2015.
  4. 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
Sugar in Moderation

Sugar Basics

Find out what it is; where it comes from; and more about this simple, functional ingredient.

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Nutrition Policy

Dietary Guidelines

What are the current recommendations for sugar?

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