How much sugar should my family have a day and how can we cut back?

The tricky thing about sugar is that there is no government recommended daily intake limit like there is for sodium or fats.  This is in part because sugar has not been proven to be linked to a specific disease.  It’s been associated with obesity, and those with diabetes need to be very careful about monitoring their carbohydrates and sugar intakes, but sugar is not a disease causer the way sodium is for hypertension and high blood pressure.

The American Heart Association (AHA) issued guidelines that may be helpful:

AHA recommends limiting the amount of added sugars you consume to no more than half of your daily discretionary calories allowance. For most American women, that’s no more than 100 calories per day, or about 6 teaspoons of sugar. For men, it’s 150 calories per day, or about 9 teaspoons. The AHA recommendations focus on all added sugars, without singling out any particular types such as high-fructose corn syrup.

While there are no hard and fast rules about how much sugar to consume, my suggestion is to err on the side of “less is more” when it comes to sugar.

  • Kids love oatmeal, naturally sweetened with fresh or dried fruit

    Limit added and refined sugars in your diet, and eat more sources of natural sugars, like fruits.

  • Eat whole fruits instead of drinking fruit juice in order to get the benefit of dietary fiber along with the sweetness.
  • When it comes to sweeteners, maple syrup, agave nectar, molasses and honey are all better choices than refined white sugar.
  • Make sure not to buy high-sugar breakfast cereals, which spike up kids’ energy but then drop it down again quite quickly.  Many kids love oatmeal with raisins for breakfast, which is a great source of whole grains and dietary fiber, with natural sweetness from dried fruit.  See our thumbs up Maple and Walnut Recipe from Appetite for Life.
  • Be a Spy!  Since added sugars are not listed on the Nutrition Facts panel for packaged foods, skip to the ingredients list and spy for all of the different sources of added sugars, such as corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, dextrose, cane juice syrup, etc.

Try this fun math exercise spelled out in the Cereal Detective game in the Appetite for Life book.  One teaspoon of sugar equals 4 grams of sugar.  So divide the grams of sugar on the Nutrition Facts Panel by 4 and you get the number of teaspoons of sugar per serving.  It can be shocking for cereals, soda and sweet snacks!

The best advice is to limit packaged processed foods to avoid added sugars.

– Stacey Antine, M.S. R.D., author, Appetite for Life and founderHealthBarn USA

What puzzles you about keeping your family healthy?  Tell us what’s on your mind by emailing [email protected].  Stacey will answer those questions here weekly.

Maple and Walnut Oatmeal

Courtesy of Appetite for Life book, HarperOne

Set the alarm clock 15 minutes earlier because this breakfast is worth lingering over.  Its great-tasting whole grains are an excellent source of soluble heart-healthy fiber and protein, and you’ll love the natural energy boost delivered by the sugar in its apples and maple syrup.  The walnuts are a bonus because they contain healthy fat high in omega-3 fatty acids, protein and iron to help build muscles.


3½ cups water

2 cups old-fashioned oats

1 medium green apple, cored and chopped

½ cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

3 tablespoons pure maple syrup

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon



  1. In medium saucepan, heat water over medium heat to simmering (gentle boil).
  2. Stir in oats; return to boiling. Reduce heat to low and simmer 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in apple, walnuts, maple syrup, and cinnamon.
  4. Cover and let stand 3 minutes to allow flavors to combine.  Serve warm, topped with low-fat (1%) milk and extra maple syrup if you like.

Makes 5 servings (1 cup per serving).

Nutrition Facts per serving: 250 calories; 10g fat (0.5g sat fat, 2g mono, 6g poly, 0g trans fats);0mg cholesterol; 35g carbohydrate  (5g fiber, 11g sugar); 7g protein; 10mg sodium; 2% Daily Value (DV) vitamin C; 4% DV calcium; 10% DV iron.

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