August 25/CNN.com -- If you're like most Americans, you will consume 22 teaspoons, or 355 calories, of added sugar today. Now, the American Heart Association would like you to cut back dramatically.
For the first time, the group has issued guidelines that say most women should consume no more then six teaspoons (about 100 calories or 25g) of added sugar daily, and most men no more than nine teaspoons (about 150 calories or 37.5g).
Here is the tricky part: Added sugar not only includes the white table sugar you might spoon into a cup of coffee or a bowl of cereal, but also sugar added to food and drinks before you even purchase them. Added sugar is commonly found in soft drinks, candy, cakes, and cookies (though it lurks in many types of food, including some yogurts and even granola.)
Some of the most common added sugars are corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, honey, maltose, malt syrup, molasses, sucrose, and syrup. In contrast, the most common naturally occurring sugars are fructose and lactose, found in fruit and dairy products, respectively.
The new guidelines were published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.
The primary pitfalls of added sugars, according to lead author Rachel Johnson, are that they deliver empty calories and they tend to replace other nutrient-rich foods in our diet. "Because most of us lead a fairly sedentary lifestyle, the food we do eat needs to be packed with nutrients," says Johnson, who is a registered dietitian and a professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont, in Burlington.
One of the specific challenges of limiting added sugars is simply recognizing them. Food manufacturers do not have to list the amount of added sugar on products, says Johnson. Instead, added sugars are lumped in with naturally occurring sources and usually listed together as "total sugars."
Johnson suggests identifying which sugary foods your family consumes most often and investigating their specific sugar contents, either by finding the product's website online or by consulting the U.S. Department of Agriculture's food composition database.
Although added sugar is not directly linked to heart disease, it is associated with risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure, high levels of triglycerides, and high levels of C-reactive protein, which has been linked to oxidative stress and inflammation, says Linda Van Horn, a registered dietitian and chair of the American Heart Association's Nutrition Committee.
In contrast, foods with naturally occurring sugars deliver nutrients while still satisfying our craving for sweetness. For example, fruits have essential vitamins and minerals as well as protective agents known as phytonutrients, such as carotenoids and polyphenols; dairy products contain calcium, protein, vitamin D, and more.
In the past, there have been few formal guidelines on how much added sugar is too much. The American Heart Association went so far as to recommend only that people "limit added sugars" or consume them "in moderation." The USDA says that based on an average adult 2000-calorie diet, 10 teaspoons of added sugar, or about 40g, is the maximum.
From the August 31, 2009, Prepared Foods E-dition