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The New Dietary Guidelines and Added Sugars: How to Help Patients Meet the Updated Recommendations

Sweetness in Practice Contributor - May 4, 2016
julie may full

The new 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting added sugars to less than 10 percent of total daily calories.1 While advice to reduce sugar intake is not new, this is the first time that the Dietary Guidelines have recommended a specific limit on the amount of added sugars individuals should consume daily. The new recommendations are consistent with World Health Organization guidelines on “free” sugars finalized in 2015.3

Eating too much sugar has been associated with an increased risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease in adults (1, 4), type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers in adults.1 About 70 percent of Americans exceed the new recommendation. While average U.S. consumption of added sugars has declined in recent years, adults consume on average almost 270 calories, or about 13 percent of their total calories from added sugars. Younger children and teens are consuming even more than adults, getting approximately 15 to 17 percent of their total calories from added sugars.1

Reducing added sugars can be challenging because they are present in so many foods and beverages. In fact, a supermarket survey of more than 85,000 packaged foods and beverages found that added sugars are present in some 75 percent of packaged products.5 The major sources of dietary sugars come from sugar-sweetened beverages, snacks and sweet treats. Together, they account for more than 75 percent of the added sugars in the typical American diet.1

Here are four ways to help your patients limit added sugars:

1. Promote Awareness of Sugars Consumption

Encourage patients to set personal goals for improving nutrition and introduce tools that can help. Provide patients with their personal daily added sugar target or direct them to a personalized energy calculator like this one from the Dietary Guidelines. Meeting a daily target will also help provide patients with a sense of accountability. Using a patient’s daily energy intake, explain how they can determine their personal target for added sugars. For example, explain that once daily calories are determined, simply take 10 percent of that value to get the recommended total calories from added sugars. To convert calories to grams of sugar, divide the calories by four. So, for a patient following a 2,000 calorie per day diet, this means aiming to keep added sugars to about 200 calories a day, or 50 grams.

2. Recommend water and other beverages that contain little or no added sweeteners

Since soda and other sweetened beverages account for nearly half of the added sugars in the American diet1, limiting or avoiding sugary beverages can be one of the most effective ways to achieve the new limits set for added sugars. As an alternative to sweetened beverages, recommend non-carbonated or sparkling water instead, and suggest jazzing it up with a citrus slice. Another great option is to recommend Truvía® Natural Sweetener, or another calorie-free sugar substitute, in place of sugar in their daily coffee, tea or other sweetened beverages. In fact, the Dietary Guidelines state that the use of calorie-free sugar substitutes may help individuals maintain a healthy weight, and can also help to reduce the risks associated with excess intake of caloric sweeteners.1,5

3. Teach Patients How to Read Nutrition Labels

To help patients determine how much sugar a packaged food or beverage contains, encourage them to read nutrition labels. Many food companies are now putting information about calories and sugars on the front of food packages. While current nutrition labels don’t distinguish between sugars that are naturally occurring or added to foods, all sugars contribute calories to the diet. Provide individuals with common names that food manufacturers use for added sweeteners. The following list contains 47 different added sugars commonly used in packaged foods and beverages.

Adapted from AppforHealth.com

4. Encourage Fruit in Place of Sweets

One of the best ways to encourage consumers to meet the new Dietary Guidelines is to instruct individuals to eat more fruits (fresh or frozen) in place of treats like baked goods, ice cream, candy and other sweets. Fruits also contain fiber, which means eating fruit may help support overall satiety during the day. Since most Americans, over the age nine, fail to meet their recommended daily servings for fruits 1 this simple swap can help meet two specific Dietary Guideline recommendations.


  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guideline...

  2. 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC). Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee; Advisory Report to the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of Agriculture. First Print February 2015. Accessed on 19 Apr 2016. Retrieved from http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientifi...

  3. World Health Organization Guideline: Sugars intake for adults and Children. 2015. Available at http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/149782/1/...

  4. Yang Q, Zhang Z, Gregg EW, Flanders WD, Merritt R, Hu FB. Added sugar intake and cardiovascular diseases mortality among US adults. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(4):516-24.

  5. Ng SW1, Slining MM, Popkin BM. Use of caloric and noncaloric sweeteners in US consumer packaged foods, 2005-2009. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012 Nov;112(11):1828-34.e1-6.