Sugar & the Diet

Sources of Added Sugars

Where are our added sugars coming from?

Sugar has benefits that go beyond sweetness or indulgence. Of course, it’s a key ingredient in the treats we enjoy in moderation, but it also has a specific functional role in other foods we might not immediately associate with sugar. It’s added to nutritious foods to balance acidity and retain moisture, helps bread rise and much more.

Added sugars have been defined by the Food and Drug Administration to include caloric sweeteners that are added to foods and beverages during preparation or processing. There are many types of sweeteners that can be added to foods and beverages with sugar, or sucrose, being one of them. Added sugars are found in a variety of foods and beverages for different reasons, many times for functions beyond sweetness.

The main source of added sugars in the diet across all age groups (>2 years), making up more than one-third of added sugars calories (35%), are calorically sweetened beverages such as soft drinks, tea and fruit drinks. Snacks and sweets are the second main source of added sugars calories, making up close to one-fifth (19%).1 Also among the top sources of added sugars in the diet are foods that contain important nutrients such as fibers, vitamins and minerals. These foods include ready-to-eat cereal, flavored milk and yogurt.2 Sugars are added to these products for functional purposes, including making certain nutritious foods more enjoyable to eat. Because of this, sugar is a key partner in nutrient delivery.3-10

how does sugar impact our diet

The 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans reported that added sugars makes up 13% of total calories in the diet.11 Here’s the breakdown of where those calories come from.

Sugar and the diet infographic

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that we limit our added sugars consumption to 10% of total calories,11 making the current average consumption slightly higher than recommended. However, it is important to note that a healthy diet includes up to 10% of calories from added sugars, allowing room for sugars in nutritious foods and occasional sweets and treats. Sugar-containing foods and drinks that don’t contribute significant nutritional value should be considered treats and consumed in moderation within caloric needs.


  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center, Food Surveys Research Group, Beltsville, Maryland, Food Patterns Equivalents Databases and Datasets. Available at: Accessed April 10, 2018.
  2. Bailey RL, Fulgoni VL, Cowan AE, Gaine PC. Sources of Added Sugars in Young Children, Adolescents, and Adults with Low and High Intakes of Added Sugars. Nutrients. 2018;10:102; doi:10.3390/nu10010102
  3. Council on School Health, Committee on Nutrition. Snack, sweetened beverages, added sugars, and schools. Pediatrics. 2015;135(3):228-258
  4. Forshee RA, Storey ML. Controversy and statistical issues in the use of nutrient densities in assessing diet quality. The Journal of Nutrition. 2004;134(10):2733-2737.
  5. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Carbohydrates in human nutrition : report of a joint FAO/WHO expert consultation, Rome: World Health Organization : Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; 1998.
  6. Frary CD, Johnson RK, Wang MQ. Children and adolescents’ choices of foods and beverages high in added sugars are associated with intakes of key nutrients and food groups. J Adolesc Health. 2004;34(1):56-63.
  7. Murphy MM, Douglass JS, Johnson RK, Spence LA. Drinking flavored or plain milk is positively associated with nutrient intake and is not associated with adverse effects on weight status in US children and adolescents. J Am Diet Assoc. 2008;108(4):631-639.
  8. Rennie KL, Livingstone MB. Associations between dietary added sugar intake and micronutrient intake: a systematic review. British Journal of Nutrition. 2007;97(5):832-841.
  9. 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. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.109.192627.
  10. Gibson SA. Dietary sugars intake and micronutrient adequacy: a systematic review of the evidence. Nutr Res Rev. 2007;20(2):121-131.
  11. 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.
Sugar & the Diet
Sugar & the Diet

Sugar in the Total Diet

Let's put added sugars and sugar intake into perspective of the total diet.

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