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Looking at Added Sugars

Every five years since 1980, researchers have surveyed about 5,000 people around the Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn. area, asking questions about what they ate within the last 24 hours. They also collected information about body weight, age, socioeconomic status, and lifestyle.

Researchers ran the answers through a software program that has compiled nutritional analysis information on hundreds of thousands of food products. By doing that, they were able to tell how much sugar people ate was added or naturally occurring.

Over 27 years since 1980, consumption of added sugars increased for all ages and both sexes.

In the latest survey, which was conducted from 2007 to 2009, for example, men were getting about 15% of their total daily calories from added sugars, nearly 40% more than was reported in the study’s first survey, which ran from 1980 to 1982.

Among women, added sugar intake rose from about 10% to about 13% over that same time period.

When researchers organized their results by age, they saw that younger adults reported eating more sugar than older adults.

At the same time, BMIs climbed along with sugar consumption.

There was one bright spot, however: in the 2000 to 2002 survey, added sugar consumption appeared to level off in both men and women and actually decreased a bit over the next seven to nine years. The BMIs of women also went down.

“I think women do pay more attention to their diet, and I think women are also paying attention to the messages of overweight and obesity,” Steffen says.

Watching Extra Sugar

The American Heart Association recommends eating no more than 5% of total calories from sugar. In a 2,000-calorie a day diet, for example, that’s about 100 calories of extra sugar, or about 24 grams, which is how sugar is listed on nutrition labels.

“It’s difficult because the label lists total sugars. The label doesn’t list added sugar,” says Rachel K. Johnson, RD, PhD, a professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont who has studied added sugars, but was not involved in the current research.

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