What the 10% Added Sugar Recommendation Really Means

What the 10% Added Sugar Recommendation Really Means

In July 2020, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), composed of nationally regarded health and nutrition experts, reviewed the science and made recommendations for the final version of the dietary guidelines. In December 2020, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) was released and two specific recommendations were surprising to many. These include the final recommendations for added sugar and alcohol. However, interestingly the recommendation for added sugar is more in line with the DGAC than you may think. Here’s a closer look into why these two recommendations were not modified.

Added Sugar

Based on scientific evidence, the DGAC recommended limiting added sugar in the diet to 6% of total calories. However, after further review of evidence, the final guidelines recommend limiting added sugars to less than 10% of calories per day for ages 2 and older and to avoid added sugars for infants and toddlers. There was backlash among the health professional community; However, if you take a closer look at the DGAs, you’ll see that the recommendation for adults is closer to 6% than you may think.

For the first time, the DGAs explains how to balance nutrient-dense foods verses empty calorie foods. The recommendation is that 85% of calories should come from nutrient-rich sources including starches, fruits, vegetables, proteins, healthy fats, and non or low fat dairy. The remaining 15% calories can come from saturated fat and added sugar. The assumption of the DGAs is that someone will consume half that amount (or 7.5% of total calories) from saturated fat and the other half (or 7.5% of total calories) from added sugar. This is much closer to the recommendations from the DGAC. Further, this 7.5% each for saturated fat and added sugar does not take alcohol into account. As such, if someone chooses to splurge their 15% empty calories on alcohol that would decrease the allotted percentage of saturated fat and added sugar even more.

So why is the maximum 10% for saturated fat and added sugar? The DGAs explain that if someone has increased needs for calories that will give them more wiggle room for saturated fat– closer to 10% of total calories. The same concept applies for the added sugar. The opposite is true as well. Someone with fewer calorie needs will probably go much closer to 6% total calories for added sugar and/or saturated fat. It’s really a juggling act with multiple variables.


The second recommendation that was not changed was the recommended amount of alcoholic drinks per day for men. The DGAC recommended decreasing the maximum drinks per day for men to one, however the latest DGAs kept the alcohol recommendations the same. This means that if you choose to drink, men should have no more than 2 drinks per day and women should consume no more than 1 drink per day. One serving of alcohol is considered:

  • 12 fluid oz of beer (5% alcohol)
  • 5 fluid oz of wine (12% alcohol)
  • 1.5 fluid oz of 80% distilled spirits like vodka or rum (40% alcohol)


During the launch of the latest DGAs, the USDA responded that there was insufficient scientific evidence to make updates to the drinks per day for men. As such, it remains at 2 drinks per day.


TELL ME: What are your thoughts on added sugar and alcohol recommendation being the same?

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