Expert Q&A

Sugar: Are you eating too much?

How can I tell if I eat too much sugar? Am I addicted to sugar? How do I limit sugar?

How can I tell if I eat too much sugar? Am I addicted to sugar? How do I limit sugar?

It is commonly believed that people are born with an affinity for sweet foods. There may be good reason for this. Some researchers postulate that our ancestors were able to discern which foods were poisonous simply by taste. Naturally bitter foods were often those that were poisonous, while sweet foods were good or safe to eat. Over time, these tastes resulted in a built-in preference for sweet foods. 

Recently, many health professionals have suggested that the more sugar you consume, the more you will crave. I believe that sweet foods, often also comfort foods, keep us coming back for more due to non-scientific factors such as nostalgia, as well as scientific factors such as stimulating the production of feel-good brain hormones like serotonin. Wanting to feel good and comforted is human nature. Is this what we’ve deemed as “having a sweet tooth?” Perhaps. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to eat too much sugar.

Do you choose sweet, low-nutrient foods instead of vegetables and lean protein sources? If your response is a resounding “yes!,” or even if it is “no” but you consume many processed foods, you may be eating too much sugar.

What is the recommended daily intake of sugar?

There is no formal limited Recommended Daily Intake for sugar. “Added sugars” are sugars and syrups that are added to foods during cooking. They don’t include naturally occurring sugars like the ones found in milk and fruit. Sugars may be added to foods to make them more palatable and are found in calorie-rich foods, which may lead to a higher calorie diet, excess weight and cavities. This is why most nutrition experts recommend limiting added sugars (excluding fruit and milk) to 40 grams per day or 10 teaspoons (4 grams is in one teaspoon). Total sugar content is easily identifiable on the Nutrition Facts panel on the back of processed foods.

Keep in mind that controlling your sugars is trickier than the “4 grams rule.” Sugar is called many other names when it’s added to food products. Here are some examples:

Ingredients are listed in order of predominance, by weight. In addition, the first five ingredients listed make up the majority of the product. Whenever possible, eat foods that do not list sugars as one of the first four or five ingredients.

Food groups to be wary of

Food groups that contribute more than 5% of the added sugars to the American diet should be limited as well. These food groups contribute more than 5% of the total added sugars consumed in decreasing order:

  1. Regular soft drinks (33%)
  2. Sugars and candy (16%)
  3. Cakes, cookies and pies (13%)
  4. Fruit ‘drinks’ (not 100% juice) such as fruit punch (10%)
  5. Dairy desserts/milk products

The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans specifically state: “Individuals who consume food or beverages high in added sugars tend to consume more calories than those who consume food or beverages low in added sugars; they also tend to consume lower amounts of micronutrients.”




Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005. Chapter 7: Carbohydrates; accessible online at


Guthrie, JF and JF Morton. “Food Sources of Added Sweeteners in the Diets of Americans.” J Am Diet Assoc. 2000;100:43-48,51.


Krebs-Smith, SM. “Choose beverages and foods to moderate your intake of sugars: measurement requires quantification.” J Nutr. 131(2S-I): 527S-535S, 2001.


Michèle Turcotte, MS, RD/LDN
Contributing Expert

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