How much sugar is too much?

With Halloween around the corner, your mind –or your kids’ minds — may be filled with visions of peanut butter cups and candy corn. While these sweet treats are tasty and can be enjoyed in moderation, consuming too much sugar can increase the risk of health problems including tooth decay, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. With this in mind, here are four tips from our Nutrition Education Team for keeping your sugar consumption in check:

1. Know the different types of sugar

Natural sugars (such as fructose and lactose) are those naturally found in foods including fruit and dairy products. Aim to get most of your sugar intake from things with naturally occurring sugar, such as plain yogurt, low-fat milk, and whole or cut fruit. Avoid added sugars –such as granulated sugar, corn syrup, honey, agave or cane juice — which are added to foods during processing, preparation, or at the table. Many prepackaged, flavored foods have added sugars, something we should all limit for good health.

2. Know your limits

While we do not need ANY added sugars as a part of a healthy diet, they are prolific in the foods we consume today. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting our added sugar intake. Keep in mind this general rule of thumb from medical experts:

  • Children should consume no more than 3 teaspoons of added sugar per day
  • Adult women should consume no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day
  • Adult men should consume no more than 9 teaspoons of added sugar per day

3. Do the math: 4g = 1 tsp

Unfortunately, current nutrition labels list sugars in “grams per serving” instead of teaspoons. Some quick math can help you figure out how much sugar is in your food. Divide the number of grams per serving by four to get the total number of teaspoons per serving. One challenge is that currently, both natural and added sugars are lumped together. In the next few years, you will see the nutrition labeling differentiate between the two.

4. Check the ingredient list

A good rule of thumb is that if sugar (or one of the more than 50 names for sugar) is within the first three ingredients on a food’s ingredient list, skip it. Ingredients in a product are listed by volume, meaning that the most prominent ingredient is always listed first. Having sugar in the top three means it is likely filled with the sweet stuff.

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