Sweet-tooth truth: Americans consume more than twice the recommended amount of added sugar per day

NEW YORK — Does eating a sweet treat leave you with a guilty conscious? Nearly three in four (74%) Americans have a sweet tooth, even though half say they’re worried about how it’s affecting their health.

A poll of 2,000 U.S. adults found 41 percent view sugar as more of a treat or indulgence than part of their diet. At the same time, 51 percent are concerned about potential health risks associated with sugar consumption. People’s family health history (48%) and information they’ve read online (46%) may be contributing factors, more so than insights from their healthcare provider (35%).

Conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Veggies Made Great, the survey also found that while people are savvy about specific sugar facts, there are still knowledge gaps in understanding their sugar intake.

How much added sugar should adults have daily?

Added sugar refers to any sugars or sweeteners that are added to foods and beverages during processing or preparation, rather than those naturally present in whole foods. This includes sugars such as table sugar (sucrose), high fructose corn syrup, and honey, among others.

Consuming high amounts of added sugars can contribute to various health issues, including obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. It’s distinct from the natural sugars found in whole fruits, vegetables, and dairy.

On average, respondents believe the maximum recommended daily added sugar intake for an adult is 5.7 teaspoons, close to the six recommended.

The average person thinks they consume 3.5 teaspoons of added sugar daily, far less than the American Heart Association’s daily sugar intake recommendations for men (9 teaspoons) and women (6 teaspoons). The reality is that American adults consume an average of 17 teaspoons of added sugar per day, more than double the recommended amount, according to the American Heart Association

So, what is the disconnect between how much added sugar Americans think they eat and what they actually get in their diet? Underestimating the amount of added sugar a food actually contains. For example, the average respondent thinks there are 3.8 teaspoons of sugar in a serving of flavored yogurt when there can be as many as six teaspoons or more.

A quarter of respondents (25%) also incorrectly identified fruit juice as having the most sugar per serving from a list of foods and beverages when in fact, it’s barbecue sauceLooking at the link between sugar and overall health, 42 percent believe sugar is the sole cause of weight gain, although there can be other contributing factors.

And while most knew overconsumption of sugar can affect tooth health (76%) and blood pressure (56%), fewer were aware of its effects on other aspects of their well-being, including the heart (43%), kidney (38%), liver (29%) and cognitive abilities (23%).

“Our research shows people may be underestimating the amount of sugar they consume, and it’s easy to see why,” says a registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for Veggies Made Great Carolyn O’Neil, in a statement. “While we often hear ‘sugar’ and think of dessert, there are many foods outside that category, from bread to ketchup, that contain added sugars people may be consuming without knowing it.”

What foods contain the most sugar?

Prior to taking the survey, over two-thirds (67%) were surprised to have learned a certain food is sugar-heavy. The most unexpected one? Yogurt (37%), followed by breakfast cereals (34%) and bottled smoothies (30%).

Two-thirds (66%) have made an effort to reduce their sugar intake by choosing products with lower amounts of sugar (55%), reducing sugary desserts (49%) and opting for sugar-free drinks (43%).

“As people become more health conscious, there are small changes they can make in their food choices that can add up to better outcomes over time,” says CEO of Veggies Made Great Elliot Huss,. “Comparing food labels for the same products and choosing a low-sugar alternative is a great way to decrease your sugar intake while still enjoying the foods you love.”

Survey methodology:

This random double-opt-in survey of 2,000 general population Americans was commissioned by Veggies Made Great between June 16 and June 20, 2023. It was conducted by market research company OnePoll, whose team members are members of the Market Research Society and have corporate membership to the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) and the European Society for Opinion and Marketing Research (ESOMAR).

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Sophia Naughton

Meet StudyFinds’ Associate Editor, Sophia Naughton. Sophia graduated Magna Cum Laude from Towson University with a Bachelor of Science in Mass Communication directly focused in journalism and advertising. She is also a freelance writer for Baltimore Magazine. Outside of writing, her best buddy is her spotted Pit Bull, Terrance.

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