2015 dietary guidelines for Americans: decrease added sugars

Published 7:46 pm Friday, January 29, 2016

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently released our nation’s newest dietary guidelines. These guidelines, which are released every five years, are intended to provide recommendations on implementing a healthy and nutritious diet, which can aid in preventing chronic disease. The guidelines change as scientific knowledge grows; therefore, healthy eating patterns are a new focus with this year’s guidelines.



An eating pattern consists of what a person habitually eats and drinks over time. While the guidelines do not discourage the public from limiting nutrients like saturated fat and sodium, it stresses the importance of choosing healthy food on our plate during each meal period. The goal is: If we are choosing healthy items at each meal, we can naturally limit harmful nutrients from our overall diet. The new guidelines provide examples of eating patterns and can be viewed at http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines.

While the guidelines discuss the importance of variety in our diets (including more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, lean protein and healthy oils) it also stresses the importance of decreasing the amount of added sugars we consume to no more than 10 percent of our total calories. This means, if we consume 2,000 calories in one day, the calories from added sugars should not exceed 200 calories.


Question: How can we determine how many calories from sugar our food item contains?

Answer: On each food package, you can find a “nutrition facts” label. There you will find what a serving size is of this food (at the top of the label), but you can also find how many grams of sugar will be in that one serving, listed under “Total Carbohydrates.”

Now, this amount includes natural sugars and added sugars. Each gram of sugar gives us four calories. So, a 12-fluid-ounce can of regular Coca-Cola has 39 grams of sugar in it; therefore, it provides 156 calories from sugar (4 calories x 39 grams of sugars).


Question: How can you tell whether your food item has natural sugars or added sugars?

Answer: Take a look under the nutrition facts label and you will see a list of ingredients in your food item. If you see ingredients such as: high fructose corn syrup, molasses, cane sugar, corn sweetener, raw sugar, syrup, honey or fruit juice concentrates — these are added sugars. The ingredients list is ordered by weight of the ingredients; therefore, if these added sugars are listed among the first couple of ingredients, then your food item contains high amounts of added sugars. Coca-Cola has high fructose corn syrup listed as the second ingredient; therefore, this item contains added sugars. Since we know it contains 156 calories from added sugars, we can realize it is close to the recommendation of limiting our intake to 10 percent of our total caloric intake.

In this day, our food supply is full of added sugars; therefore, this recommendation takes sincere dedication to reading labels and making conscious choices about our food choices including drinks, condiments and snack choices.

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines is an important resource not only for health professionals but for every individual in our nation. The body of evidence that shows how healthy eating patterns — such as limiting added sugars — can impact our health has influenced the writing of these guidelines. Chronic diet-related diseases continue to rise in America and progress towards reversing this will require complex strategies; however, these guidelines provide a great beginning tool to use. Please consider visiting the website listed above and read how you can implement these guidelines to improve nutrition and overall health.

Ashley Corbett, MS, RD, LDN is a registered dietitian with Vidant Wellness Center and Vidant Beaufort Hospital.