How Much Sugar Can You Avoid Today?

Sunday Review | Op-Ed Columnist

By DAVID LEONHARDT DEC. 30, 2016

The typical American diet includes far too much added sugar. Can you stay under a healthy limit?

I’ve recently tried to reduce the sugar I eat, having been persuaded by the research on its damages — and alarmed by how much sugar has snuck into our diet. To give you a sense of how common it is, we’ve created a challenge: Construct a day’s worth of eating, from items at a typical supermarket we visited, that meets the guidelines for added sugars.

Health experts recommend most adults eat no more than 50 grams (that’s 12-and-a-half teaspoons) of added sugars per day — and, ideally, closer to 25. Unfortunately, food companies aren’t (yet) required to disclose how much added sugars are in their products. They must disclose only total sugars, including the natural ones in fruits, vegetables and dairy.

But that still lets you make good decisions. That’s because while the reality is that natural sugars aren’t much healthier than added sugars, experts focus on added sugar because Americans don’t tend to overeat fruit and vegetables. A useful rule of thumb is: Don’t worry about anything with only natural sugar. (In this challenge, we haven't.)

So get to work. Pick food for three meals and, if you’d like — and have the sugar to spare — a snack and dessert. Good luck!