FDA – RDA 40g Sugar?

by Jhet Bhlak on January 19, 2009


I’ve been trying to figure out where people online have been coming up with this “less than 40g of sugar RDA” that I keep reading about. And I think I have finally found out what they were talking about.

It wasn’t the Food and Drug Administration that was suggesting 40g or less of sugar, it was the Department of Agriculture and some other health experts.

“In petitioning for labeling changes regarding sugar, CSPI, joined by dozens of leading health experts, also wants the FDA to set a maximum recommended daily intake (Daily Value) for added sugars of 10 teaspoons (40 grams) and require labels to disclose the percentage of the Daily Value a food provides.”

I also found out that they were not talking about natural sugars in products. They were talking about added sugars.  As an example, an apple has 19g of sugar but would have zero added sugar. On the other hand a can of pop has about 41g of sugar but all of it is added sugar. So with 1 can of pop you are over your suggested RDA of added sugar.

The problem is that I I have not yet found a food label that distinguishes between added sugar  and naturally occuring sugar.

Q: How much sugar is in a slightly heaping teaspoon?

A: About 7.5 grams. There are 4 grams in a non-heaping teaspoon and 12.5 grams of sugar in a tablespoon.

Felicity’s Gluten Free Handbook

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Phillip David January 7, 2012 at 4:26 pm

Your blog comes up as a top hit for “rda for sugar”. I had just come to the same conclusions as you did when I ran across your blog post. It was nice to get a confirmation of my thinking. I was trying to figure this out because I’ve been tracking my food intake at MyFitnessPal.com (I’m not affiliated with this site, but it’s a great, free way to track your food and exercise) and it told me that I was consuming way too much sugar. But they’re using 40 g/day for men as the total sugar to consume, not the added sugar.


Jhet Bhlak January 9, 2012 at 9:00 am

It seems like if you eat any quantity of fruit, you would go over 40g. I know the smoothie I make in the mornings has a bunch of natural sugars. I make it with milk, OJ, strawberries, bananas, pineapple and blueberries so it has a high sugar content. That’s what made me research the 40g number I kept finding all over the place. And I don’t think anyone would say that an all natural smoothie is unhealthy :)

Thanks for commenting!


cyd charisse February 1, 2012 at 4:42 pm

2 cups of no fat milk has 24g of sugar. 1 medium banana contains 14g. So after I consume these 280 calories, I’m supposed to eat cardboard?


Jhet Bhlak February 1, 2012 at 5:09 pm

The banana has 0g of added sugar and if that 24g of sugar in the milk is lactose, then it isn’t added either. Now if the producer of the milk is adding sugar to it then you could count that sugar but you would have to figure out how much was added and how much was naturally in the milk.


Gemily April 25, 2012 at 2:54 pm

I think the difference between fruit and the other sugars is the fact that the others are refined sugars….fruit is full of natural sugars. I’m sure too many are not good for you….but moderation in everything…


Thomas Hildern May 31, 2012 at 6:19 pm

As a nutritionist who regular counsels patients referred to me by primary care physicians concerned about obesity, diabetes, pre-diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and a myriad of other pathologies brought on by poor diet, I can tell you that we try and drill a rule into our patients’ consciousness regarding sugar and it goes like this: Sugar is Sugar is Sugar. Too much sugar – in any/every form- will become triglycerides. The overwhelming of the foods we have presented to us in our grocery stores are not healthy for us. Just because you see it on a store shelf, see an enticing advertisement on television, were served something by your mother as a child and have a buy-one-get-one-free coupon, doesn’t make that food good for you. For most of our MALE patients who should consume 2,500 calories a day (+/-), we recommend no more than 40 to 50 grams of sugar per day from all sources (natural, added, refined, etc.). With most of our adult patients, it takes the weeks, if not months, of daily tracking of all their food intake to acclimate to a new pattern of consuming food. It is worth it and it is easier than ever before, especially with the new IPhones, Droid Phones, IPads, etc. We recommend MyFitnessPal.com to our patients. It has a built-in database of nearly 2 million food/restaurant items with all the nutritional data already programmed in. Trust me, once you start tracking your actual food intake, you will be dramatically surprised at how much you were OVER eating.


Jhet Bhlak June 1, 2012 at 7:56 am

Here is why I would disagree with the 40 – 50 grams of total sugar per day. If you had an apple and a glass of orange juice you would not be able to eat anything else that day since that adds up to 45g of sugar. I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone who thought that and apple and some orange juice is bad for you.


Sarah Farmer June 18, 2012 at 10:20 am

I too found this once I realized the sugar allowance on myfitness pal.. For breakfast I ate watermelon and blackberries.. 203 calories, 40g sugar… It shows my goal to be 24g per day. As a nutritionalist, what would you recommend then? I’m baffled….


Jhet Bhlak June 18, 2012 at 12:03 pm

I’m not a nutritionist, however, I would recommend not paying too much attention to sugar. Sugar may be a valid measurement if you could segregate the natural sugars from sugars added to a product but with the current labeling system that is not possible. Stick to fruits, vegetables and fish and watch how many calories you eat.


Christine E. July 3, 2012 at 12:10 pm

I disagree that sugar is sugar is sugar and more recent research also supports that this is not the case (google sugar and Robert Lustig). While people with triglyceride issues may need to be more careful of fruit consumption, you can’t compare apples to straight sugar. Fruits contain other vital nutrients and fiber which helps regulate the release of sugar into our system. And it’s more difficult to overconsume when one sticks to a diet of whole foods. We tend to get too focused on eating high carb/low carb, high protein/low fat, etc. etc. when we really should be focusing on eliminating most processed foods from our diet and reducing our meat consumption and portion sizes (IMO).


Jhet Bhlak July 3, 2012 at 12:17 pm

Well said :)


chris trout August 13, 2012 at 6:13 pm

I too think something is wrong with the way some of you are figuring things out… first , man made/processed sugar is not the same as the sugar mother nature made…sorry and the way the FDA looks at it is….
“The American Heart Association recommends men limit added sugar to 36 g, or 9 tsp., per day and that women limit added sugar to 24 g, or 6 tsp., per day. An additional recommendation calls for limiting sugary soft drinks to 36 oz. per week, or 450 calories, based on a 2,000-calorie diet. The calories from soft drinks cause more weight gain than the calories from solid foods. These limits only pertain to added sugars, not sugars that occur naturally in some foods. The average American consumes 21 tsp., or 84 g, of sugar daily, far more than recommended.”
so back to your calculations…

Read more: http://www.livestrong.com/article/363283-recommended-daily-allowance-of-sugar/#ixzz23TUDCrqY


Nicole September 26, 2012 at 12:09 pm

Thank you for this post. It seems like everyone, the news, blogs, nutritionists and healthy living websites all claim the FDA, USDA, AKA the Government “recommends” a certain amount of sugar intake. However, I can not find a primary source on a dot gov that actually lists an RDA (recommended daily allowance) for sugar, added or otherwise. I found a handy little tool on nutrition.gov that gives you DRI (dietary reference intakes) for everything but sugar, so I decided to search for RDA sugar, hence I found your site. I think the media is misquoting some information that was put out there at some point. My opinion, avoid added sugar and moderate natural sugars. Here is the link to the RDA tool that I noted above: http://fnic.nal.usda.gov/fnic/interactiveDRI/


Jhet Bhlak September 26, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Thank you for the link!


Nicole September 26, 2012 at 1:14 pm

Here is something of note from running the DRI tool. When you click on the “1″ next to the carbohydrates column you get a pop-up window with footnotes about carbohydrates. The last line says:

“A DRI for added sugars was not set. A maximal intake level of 25% or less of total calories from added sugars is suggested.”

To me, that last line suggests that if you find out what 25% of your total calories is, that would give you your added sugar limit. Based on the DRI tool, I should have 2503 calories a day. 25% of that is 625.75 calories. So the question is, how many calories are in a TSP of sugar? Once you figure that out, then you will know how many TSP of added sugar you can have.


Jhet Bhlak September 26, 2012 at 1:24 pm

Well there is this article that says 1 teaspoon (4g) is 15 calories:


Which coincides with what I’ve read before about sugar being about 3.8-3.9 calories per gram. But that seems like an awful lot of sugar to consume. Going with your number of 625 calories that means you could have 41.6 teaspoons of sugar a day. Seems excessive lol :)


Nicole September 26, 2012 at 1:31 pm

Well, if you really think about how much added sugar you’re exposed to, it might be low. Sources of added sugar: bread, yogurt (the kind that has HFCS added to it), soda, juice (commercially produced juice, not the stuff you do yourself), marinades, salad dressings, cereal, flavored water, the list could go on.

I definitely watch my added sugar intake, and I don’t think I come close to even 10 tsp. However, I do think that the algorithm used to determine my nutritional recommendations is a bit skewed, because even being an active adult, I don’t eat 2500 calories a day. I would say on average I eat 1600-1900. Did you run the tool, was your caloric intake high or low?

Jhet Bhlak September 26, 2012 at 1:37 pm

When I ran the tool it said I’d need 2425 calories per day. Which I think is high. I’m really eating around 1900 to 2100 and I maintain my weight.


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