Nutrition & Health Info Sheets for Consumers - Sugar

Nutrition & Health Info Sheets contain up-to-date information about nutrition, health, and food. They are provided in two different formats for consumer and professional users. These resources are produced by Dr. Rachel Scherr and her research staff. Produced by Rain Zhang, Promise Lee, Annie (Chi Shan) Wong, Britt Robinson, Anna M. Jones, PhD, Rachel E. Scherr, PhD.

What is sugar?

Sugars in food can be either natural or added. Natural sugars are those that are naturally-occurring in foods, such as sugar in milk, fruits, and starch in potatoes. Added sugars are those that are added during processing or preparation of foods for taste, color, or shelf life. [1] Table sugar, brown sugar, and high-fructose corn syrup are common examples of added sugars. [2]

Why is sugar important?

Glucose, a type of sugar, is one of the main energy sources for the body. It is the main fuel for the brain, supporting daily activities and exercise. [3]

What are the recommendations for sugar?

Added sugars have very little nutritional value but contribute overall calories. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines recommend that added sugar contribute less than 10% of daily calories. [2,3] In 2015, many people in the U.S. consumed more than 10% of their calories from added sugars. Sugar-sweetened beverages contribute the most added sugars in the U.S. diet. Reducing intake of sugar-sweetened beverages is one way to decrease added sugar intake. [2]

What are common sources of added sugars?

Common sources of added sugars include:

  1. Sugar-sweetened beverages (soda, sweet coffee, energy drinks)
  2. Sugary cereal
  3. Candy and chocolates
  4. Flavored yogurt
  5. Baked goods
  6. Frozen foods
  7. Pasta sauce
  8. Barbecue sauce, ketchup, salad dressing and other condiments [4]

What are simple ways to help lower added sugar intake?

The following simple tips, based on the Dietary Guidelines for American’s 2015-2020 recommendations, may help lower your added sugar intake.

  1. Choose drinks without added sugars, such as: water, low-fat or fat-free milk, or 100% fruit and vegetable juices.
  2. Choose options without added sugar, such as plain yogurt or unsweetened applesauce.
  3. Choose fruit for a sweet snack or dessert instead of foods with added sugars.
  4. Drink smaller portions of sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda, and drink them less often.
  5. Eat smaller portions of foods with added sugars, such as desserts.
  6. Use fruit as a topping for foods instead of syrup or other sweeteners. [2,5]

What health implications are related to sugar consumption?


Diabetes is a chronic disease in which the cells in our body have trouble using sugar in the blood for energy. There are two types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the body attacks the cells of the pancreas that produce insulin, which is needed for proper blood sugar usage.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body cannot produce or use insulin properly. Type 2 diabetes is caused by multiple factors such as genetics, diet, and lifestyle. Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes result in higher than normal blood sugar levels. There are about 30 million Americans diagnosed with diabetes; type 1 diabetes make up only 5% of those diagnosed with diabetes. To manage type 2 diabetes, people should maintain a healthy weight, control blood pressure and blood sugar levels, and avoid foods with little nutritional value. Physical activity can also help prevent and manage type 2 diabetes. [6]

Heart Disease

Heart disease includes any disease of the heart or blood vessels, and can lead to heart attacks or strokes. Recent studies have found that the more sugar consumed, the greater risk for developing heart disease. One study found that those who ate more than 25% of their calories from added sugars were twice as likely to die from heart disease as those who consumed 10% of their calories from added sugars. [7]

Tooth Decay

Tooth decay can be caused by excess sugar consumption. When consuming sugar and highly processed starches, some sugars stay in the mouth and on teeth. These are then digested by bacteria, which produce acids that harm tooth enamel. The longer the sugars stay on the teeth, the more harm is caused. [8]



  1. Added Sugars. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Updated July 12, 2017. Accessed July 2, 2019.
  2. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 8th edition. Updated December 2015. Accessed July 2, 2019.
  3. Background on Carbohydrates & Sugars. International Food Information Council Foundation. Accessed July 3, 2019.
  4. Cording J. Looking to Reduce Your Family's Intake of Added Sugars? Here's How. EatRight. Published July 31, 2018. Accessed July 3, 2019.
  5. Ewoldt JS. 6 ways to reduce your sugar intake. Mayo Clinic. Published December 11, 2016. Accessed July 3, 2019.
  6. Diabetes Basics. American Diabetes Association. Accessed July 3, 2019.
  7. Yang Q, Zhang Z, Gregg EW, Flanders WD, Merritt RD, Hu FB. Added sugar intake and cardiovascular diseases mortality among US adults. Journal of the American Medical Association, Internal Medicine. 2014;174(4):516-524. Accessed July 3, 2019.
  8. Gupta P, Gupta N, Pawar AP, Birajdar SS, Natt AS, Singh HP. Role of sugar and sugar substitutes in dental caries: a review. ISRN Dent. 2013;2013:519421. Published 2013 Dec 29. doi:10.1155/2013/519421


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