Sugars are found naturally in nutritious foods, such as fruits, vegetables and milk. However, non-nutritious sugar—like added refined sugars, sugary drinks, molasses, syrups and sweets—can drag you down and cause you to pack on unwanted pounds. A study published in a 2012 edition of the “American Journal of Public Health” reports that body mass index, or BMI, increased with higher added sugar intakes among both men and women. Basically, less is better when it comes to non-nutritious sugars.
Most Americans eat more sugar than what’s recommended, which may be why obesity rates are so high in the U.S. According to the American Heart Association, while most people in the U.S. eat about 22.2 teaspoons of added sugars each day, most men should limit sugar to 9 teaspoons and women should generally aim for a maximum of 6 teaspoons—or less—per day. However, your individualized recommendation for added sugar intake is based on your total calorie needs. The American Heart Association recommends you limit added sugars to no more than half of your discretionary calorie allowance set by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010.
Most women can lose weight following diets containing 1,000 to 1,200 calories a day, while active women and women weighing more than 164 pounds may need 1,200 to 1,600 calories per day for successful weight loss, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. If you’re following a 1,200-calorie weight loss diet, your discretionary calorie allowance set by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 is 120 calories, meaning your added sugar intake shouldn’t exceed 60 calories, or 15 grams, each day.
Most sedentary women seeking to maintain their body weight need about 1,800 calories per day, according to the Dietary Guidelines 2010. If you fall into this category and eat 1,800 calories a day, your discretionary calorie allowance is 160 calories; therefore, aim to limit your added sugar consumption to 80 calories, or 20 grams, per day.
If you’re an active woman, which means you exercise the equivalent of walking more than 3 miles per day, you probably need about 2,200 to 2,400 calories a day to maintain your weight, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. If you eat 2,400 calories a day, your discretionary calorie allowance is 330 calories; this means you should limit added sugars to 165 calories, or about 41 grams, per day.
- American Journal of Public Health: Consistency between Increasing Trends in Added-Sugar Intake and Body Mass Index among Adults: The Minnesota Heart Survey, 1980-1982 to 2007-2009
- American Heart Association: Sugars 101
- U.S. Department of Agriculture; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010
Erin Coleman is a registered and licensed dietitian. She also holds a Bachelor of Science in dietetics and has extensive experience working as a health writer and health educator. Her articles are published on various health, nutrition and fitness websites.