Recommended daily intake of sugars

After reading about the recently released 2015 USDA dietary guidelines (and the controversy surrounding it) I was wondering what the recommended maximum daily intake of sugars was, given those guidelines don’t state a maximum, and neither does the Canada Food Guide. Here’s what I’ve found.

The WHO recommends a daily limit of about 13 teaspoons of added sugars per day

The WHO published guidelines in 2015 on Sugars intake for adults and children, which recommended the following:

  • WHO recommends a reduced intake of free sugars throughout the lifecourse (strong recommendation*)
  • In bnoth adults and children, WHO recommends reducing the intake of free sugars to less than 10% of total energy intake (strong recommendation*)
  • WHO suggests a further reduction of the intake of free sugars to below 5% of total energy intake (conditional recommendation**)

Free sugars include monosaccharides and disaccharides added to foods and beverages by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates.

* Strong recommendations indicate that "the desirable effects of adherence to the recommendation outweigh the undesirable consequences". This means that "the recommendation can be adopted as policy in most situations.
** Conditional recommendations are made when there is less certainty "about the balance between the benefits and harms or disadvantages of implementing a recommendation". This means that "policy-making will require substantial debate and involvement of various stakeholders" for translating them into action.

Free sugars do not include the sugars already present in whole foods such as fruit and vegetables.

For a 2000 calorie diet, they recommend that 200 calories come from these free sugars. What is 200 calories in terms of, say, granulated sugar? Based on the USDA Nutrient Database, granulated sugar has 387 calories per 100 g of sugar. So 200 calories is 51.7 g of sugar. Put another way, that’s just about 13 teaspoons of sugar per day (at 4 g per teaspoon of sugar).

As stated above, they further propose that the daily limit be reduced to 5% of total energy intake, so going back to our 2000 calorie diet, that’s 100 calories, or 25.8 g, or 6.5 teaspoons per day. The caveat is that there is less certainty about the benefits from recommending an even lower sugar intake amount.

Health Canada’s proposed daily sugar limit

Currently, Canada’s Food guide doesn’t give a limit for sugar. In June 2015, Health Canada published a set of proposed regulations to amend the nutrition labeling of food products (among other labeling changes). In the proposed regulations, a sugar limit is given:

A DV of 100 g is being proposed for sugar, and the declaration of the % DV for sugar in the NFt would be mandated for all foods. Consumers would be able to use the % DV to determine whether a food contains a lot or a little sugar (as indicated by the rule of thumb footnote), and as a result adjust or limit their sugar intake.

The “% DV” is the daily value amount, based on the recommended daily intake chart (near the bottom of the page).

The proposed 100 g of sugar recommended here is about double the recommendation from the WHO; however, that’s total daily intake, from added and natural sugars. The WHO recommendations only dictate limits on added sugars to foods.

Proposed sugar limit and % DV

I advocate for a 50 g daily intake limit for added sugars. The nutrition labeling should also reflect this 50 g limit and corresponding % DV for sugar. Added sugars are more of a concern than naturally occurring sugars in vegetables and fruit, and nutrition labeling is generally on processed foods – where the added sugars are. However, it should be clear in the guidance documentation that overall limit is 100 g of sugar per day.