Updated once every five years, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) is largely based on a report written by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee of scientific and health experts. The Committee uses the latest scientific research to develop recommendations to update the DGA. They released their report in July. After a period of public input, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services then use this report to write the final 2020-2025 DGA.
Unfortunately, the 2020 Committee’s review shows that our diet and food choices do not follow the current health and nutrition recommendations and that most Americans have one or more chronic diseases where diet plays an important role: overweight and obesity, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and some types of cancer. The typical American diet contains too many calories, saturated fat, sodium and added sugars and is too low in fruit, vegetables and whole grains for overall good health.
The 2015-2020 DGA for the first time recommended that Americans consume less than 10% of total calories from added sugar. The 2020 scientific report takes this a step further and recommends limiting added sugar to only 6% of calories.
What Are Added Sugars?
The Committee defines added sugars according to the 2016 U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidance: sugars that are either added during food processing or packaged as such (like a bag of sugar).
Added sugars include sugars, syrups and honey, and sugars from concentrated fruit or vegetable juices that are in excess of what would be expected from the same volume of 100% fruit or vegetable juices of the same type. You’ll see added sugars such as brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, raw sugar, and sucrose listed on food labels. Sugars naturally occurring in foods, such as the sugar in fruit and milk, are not considered added sugars.
What Foods Contain Added Sugars?
Nearly 70% of added sugars are found in 5 food categories: sweetened beverages, desserts and sweet snacks, sweetened coffee and tea, candy and sugars, and breakfast cereals and bars.
Sweetened beverages, not including coffee and tea, account for approximately one-third of total beverage consumption and contribute approximately 30%, 50%, and 60% of added sugars to the diet of young children, adolescents, and adults. Sweetened beverages include soda, sweetened fruit drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, and sweetened waters; and are strongly associated with overweight and obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, non-alcoholic liver disease, tooth decay and cavities, and gout.
How Much Added Sugar Do We Currently Consume?
90% of Americans currently consume more than 6% of their daily calories from added sugar. 75% of adults consume 15-20% of total calories from added sugars.
Why Did the Committee Decide on Limiting Added Sugars to 6% of Calories?
The Committee’s research led to the conclusion that limiting added sugars to less than 6% of total calories leads to improved health and avoids excess calorie intake.
Why is Limiting Added Sugar Important?
Reducing the amount of calories we consume from added sugars leaves more calories available for nutrient-dense foods that promote overall health: fruit, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains. Diets high in added sugar are associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer.
Tips to Reduce Added Sugars:
- Choose unsweetened beverages such as plain water or 100% vegetable or fruit juice.
- Choose unsweetened coffee and tea.
- Instead of sweet bakery foods like muffins, scones, cakes and pies, enjoy fresh fruit or a slice of whole grain bread with 100% fruit spread.
- Look for hot and cold breakfast cereals without added sugars such as plain oatmeal or Shredded Wheat and read the nutrition facts labels carefully to find added sugars.
- When choosing a breakfast bar, read the list of ingredients and choose foods where a sugar is not listed in the first three ingredients.
- Instead of cookies, candy, or other sweets, choose fruit for a snack.
- Avoid chocolate, strawberry, or other types of flavored milks (both dairy and plant-based milks). Instead enjoy plain, unflavored, and unsweetened milk.
By Lynn Grieger, RDN, CDCES, CPT, CHWC
Dietary Guidelines for Americans. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/ accessed 7-19-20
Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. 2020. Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee: Advisory Report to the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health and Human Services. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Washington, DC.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nutrition. Know Your Limit for Added Sugars. https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/data-statistics/know-your-limit-for-added-sugars.html#:~:text=Added%20sugars%20are%20sugars%20and,called%20by%20many%20different%20names. Last reviewed 4-3-19. Accessed 7-19-20
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nutrition. Get The Facts: Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Consumption. https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/data-statistics/sugar-sweetened-beverages-intake.html last reviewed 2-27-17; accessed 7-19-20.
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.