This is Why You’re Fat: The USDA Sugar Edition

Sugar makes us fat. Here's how to cut back.

Roaming around the USDA website is an eye-opening experience. The agency was created to help farmers produce more food for U.S. citizens. Over the years, they have become more involved with American nutrition, and you can see this conflict when you go through the pages of their site. The USDA wants farmers to grow easy crops with high yields and good market prices. And, at the same time, they want Americans to "eat well." Therein lies the rub. I was looking for recommended levels of sugar for Americans and came across the aggregate page of crop yields for corn, cane sugar, and beets. It's pretty interesting to see how much we're growing and how the farmers are doing yield-wise. And if the USDA is helping farmers grow all this sugar, then they need to help them get rid of it, too.  So how much do you think the USDA recommends for daily consumption of sugar for the average American? 10 teaspoons of added sugar per day; this does not include naturally occurring sugars such as fructose in your orange or lactose in your milk.   Think about that for a second ... 10 teaspoons of sugar is 168 useless calories.  Over the course of a year, that translates to 17 1/2 pounds you need to figure out how to burn off.  Or worse still, carry on your body and live withe every day. Let's compare those 10 added calories to the American Heart Association's sugar recommendations:
  • Men: 9 teaspoons total intake
  • Women: 5 teaspoons total intake
  • Children: 3 teaspoons total intake
While the difference between the USDA's amount and the AHA-recommended amount for men might not seem like that much, keep in mind the second number is all sugars through all sources, not just added to a dish.  The AHA sounds a whole lot more reasonable, doesn't it? By the way, one can of soda has, on average, 9 to 10 teaspoons of sugar in it. Are we eating too much sugar?  Yes! Do we need to cut back?  Yes! How do we do that?  The usual ways.  Eat a diet full of fruits and veggies, lean meats, and cut back on processed foods, one of the main ways that sugar sneaks into our diets.  The more you cook from scratch, the better, too; you're not likely to dump a pound of sugar into a home-cooked meal. This isn't my first time writing about how the USDA makes us fat; check out how the recently introduced "Food Plate" has been taken over by lobbyists. Do you watch your sugar intake? Cheers, Lisa

About Lisa Johnson

Lisa Johnson here. I've been a personal trainer since 1997, a Pilates instructor since 1998 and the owner of Modern Pilates since 1999. I'm hoping to give you some good ideas to get or stay in shape with a healthy dose of humor and reality. Thanks for joining me.

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14 Responses to This is Why You’re Fat: The USDA Sugar Edition

  1. Nina February 24, 2012 at 10:09 am #

    I found this source that says that on average we eat 6.9 oz of added sugar per day.

    If 3 teaspoons are a tablespoon and 4 tablespoons are a 1/4 cup (4 oz) that means we eat over 21 teaspoons on average in the US. That’s more than twice their recommendation.

    If 9 is bad… what’s 21?

    Think about all the sugars… not just in your coffee…

  2. Diane Mulholland February 24, 2012 at 12:08 pm #

    What gets me is how much sugar is added to savoury stuff – mindblowing. I checked the label on tetra-packed chicken stock yesterday and there it was, third on the list. Since when does stock need sugar in it??!!

  3. Diane Mulholland February 24, 2012 at 12:09 pm #

    P.S. My added sugar intake is basically zero. It’s really not that hard, and given how much cheese I eat, I’m pretty sure it’s what’s keeping me skinny ;)

  4. Lisa Johnson February 24, 2012 at 1:40 pm #

    Nina thanks so much for that link … I had run across the number too but then lost where I had it! Diane, I know, we need to read labels on everything because of some food allergies in our home and it was very eye opening when I started paying attention to the sugar content of stuff … mind-blowing really.

  5. TraceyJoy February 26, 2012 at 12:26 am #

    YIKES!!!!! That is a lot of sugar, ewwwww. Just reading the percentage turned my tummy sick. I’m breaking the white sugar habit as we speak. Like Diane said it’s really not that hard. La Croix water has helped me a lot with that. I use honey and I eat fruit, but I read labels like a fury now. Sugar is in everything, even so called natural wholesome products it’s a darn shame, read labels folks.

  6. Lisa Johnson February 26, 2012 at 7:23 pm #

    TraceyJoy, I know what you mean, so disappointed when I started looking at granola bars … they have so much sugar! L–

  7. Evilcyber March 6, 2012 at 5:04 pm #

    Lisa, I can’t find that recommendation on the USDA website. Can you point me to it?

  8. Lisa Johnson March 6, 2012 at 9:02 pm #

    Hi Evil … I couldn’t find the original reference … gah! Sorry that I didn’t add the link. I did find this one … which is about halfway down the page … it’s from 2002 though, I swear it was in part of the Plate recommendations, they didn’t update the amount from the early 2000s, but can I find it anywhere? nope. Sigh. L–

  9. Evilcyber March 7, 2012 at 4:27 pm #

    No problem and thanks for going through the trouble! This is something that has my interest perked!

  10. Lisa Johnson March 7, 2012 at 8:45 pm #

    I know I saw it somewhere else, it’s bugging me I didn’t bookmark it, thought I had. the USDA site is so hard to search! I know better. :)

  11. curlsz March 9, 2012 at 7:16 pm #

    So where do things like honey and maple syrup stand in all this – I use both to sweeten things like plain yogurt rather than buying flavored yogurt and sweeten my oatmeal

  12. Lisa Johnson March 12, 2012 at 1:04 pm #

    honey and maple syrup would count as added sugar, you’d need to read the label and see how much you’re using. I think a little is fine and I think the more natural the source the better :) L–

  13. David August 6, 2013 at 8:04 am #

    You read the AHA piece wrong. Their suggestions were for total added sugar, not simply total sugar as you wrote. Here’s the abstract for Circulation, where they released a statement with their guidelines:

  14. Lisa Johnson August 6, 2013 at 11:14 pm #

    David I apologize if that came across that way … yes I did mean total added sugar not naturally occurring sugar in things such as fruit. Thanks. L–

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