Sugar Intake Guidelines

The World Health Organization publishes health guidelines specific to sugar intake. Their observations and recommendations include:

  • WHO GuidelinesA  strong recommendation for limiting free sugar intake (including monosaccharides and disaccharides, and including those naturally present and those added by manufacturers) to 10% of total caloric intake.
  • A weak recommendation for limiting free sugar intake to 5% of total caloric intake. They found no health detriment when achieving this more stringent level.
  • For those already under these guidelines, they do not recommend increasing free sugar intake to guideline level. For those deficient in total caloric intake, increasing free sugar intake is not an appropriate strategy when other forms of caloric intake are available.

For me, a tall adult male, with a daily 2,600 Calorie diet (and 4kcal/g of energy in sugar) the looser guidelines lead to a daily intake limit of 65g of sugar, or one 20 oz bottle of Coca Cola (240 Calories).

For women or children, the sugar intake guidelines will be significantly lower, due mostly to lower total caloric consumption. Applying the more stringent 5% standard to children will limit total intake to a fraction of a 12 oz can of Coca Cola.

The WHO provides no guidelines on the intake of artificial or substitute sweeteners or sugar alcohols. However, these substitutes are generally used in processed foods that do not generally provide the same health benefits as whole foods such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

Dietary GuidelinesThe USDA now recommends limiting sugar consumption to 10% of total caloric intake. USDA guidelines generally emphasize a calorie balance for maintaining body weight. Therefore their recommendation is derived from the requirement to meet other nutritional requirements with the remaining balance of calorie consumption. A similar argument applies to their recommendations on saturated fat intake (10%).

The Japanese government does not make sugar-specific intake recommendations. In general this is because childhood and adult obesity are lower there. However, in 2000 the ministry announced its “spinning top” (upside-down food pyramid) that permits a moderate amount of snacks and confections. Given the overall lack of sugar otherwise in the diet, Japanese guidelines are probably consistent with WHO recommendations.