Sugars Added

Understand sugars added and addes sugar (or "free sugar") targets in the Nutrient Explorer

What they are

The name is pretty self-explanatory – sugars added are extra sugars that have been added to a food or beverage. They’re sometimes referred to as “free sugars,” especially in Europe.

What they do

Added sugars provide energy (like any other sugar), but they generally don’t bring any other nutrients along for the ride. Most added sugars come in the form of high fructose corn syrup or plain white sugar (sucrose), which have no nutritional value beyond their sugar content. Some added sugars are marketed as “healthy” alternatives, and they may have trace levels of some micronutrients – for example, honey has a bit of zinc and vitamin B6, and agave nectar has trace amounts of vitamin C and potassium – but not enough to really matter.

Recommended intake

Most health agencies recommend that added sugar intake should be as low as possible. The USDA recommends keeping added sugar intake below 10% of total energy intake. The British NHS recommends added sugar intake to stay below 30g per day. The American Heart Association recommends keeping added sugar intake below 5% of total energy intake. But, those targets should be understood to be upper limits – the lower your intake of added sugars, the better.

Likelihood of tracking completeness: Very high in the US, and low in many other places

Nutrition labels in the US are required to list added sugar content. So, the vast majority of American foods in the MacroFactor database should contain added sugar information, making it easy to accurately track your added sugar intake with consistent food logging.

However, in the EU, Australia, Canada, and many other countries, added sugar is a nutrient that is only reported on a voluntary basis. Many food manufacturers do not voluntarily list added sugar content on nutrition labels, so many branded products in the MacroFactor database from outside the US lack added sugar information. So, if you’d like to accurately track your added sugar intake, you’ll need to make a point of mostly tracking “common foods,” which come from research-grade databases that have full nutrient reporting.

For more on when you can track using branded foods versus common foods when you’re trying to accurately monitor your intake of particular nutrients, you should check out this article.

Likelihood of excessive intake: Very high

In most of the developed world, the average intake of added sugars exceeds 50 grams per day.

For more on nutrients with a greater likelihood of insufficient or excessive intake, you should check out this article.

Signs of excessive intake

Most acutely, excessive sugar intake is related to increased hunger and decreased satiety (since sugar is less satiating than other energetic nutrients) and fluctuating energy levels – a quick burst of energy, followed by a crash.

Most of the problems with excessive added sugar intake are less acute and manifest over a period of years: increased incidence of metabolic disorders, cardiovascular diseases, several cancers, decrements in bone, liver, and tooth health, and increases in all-cause mortality rates.

Good sources


Learn more

If you’d like to learn more about micronutrients generally, there’s a five-part series on the MacroFactor website you might enjoy.

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