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As far as I can tell, there are two types of sugar, natural and added.

With added sugars, the answer seems obvious: Zero added sugar is best, but maximum is 25 grams for women, and 37.5 grams for men. (source)

However, with the natural sugars, the answer is unclear. From this source, it lists multiple recommended serving sizes for fruit, vegetables and dairy. When I punch in the numbers from that source, it implies a minimum daily natural sugar limit of ~63g a day and a maximum of around 198g, as shown in the picture below.

Are there more reliable information sources about the amount of natural sugar one can have?


(edit, based on comments) My fitness goal is just to maintain an ability to do a continuous run of 10 laps (2.5 miles) within 30 mins., every two days and when I look at sugar intake for that situation I get confused in general as to what the information or recommendations mean and how much is appropriate.

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  • Can you define what you mean by "physically fit"? The wording in the title makes it sound like athletic performance is the outcome of interest, but the question body makes it sound more like you're interested in general health. Aug 11 at 1:48
  • I'm not sure I understand, I think my athletic performance target is also related to general health. As a specific goal, I'd like to maintain the ability to do a continuous run of 10 laps (2.5 miles) within 30 mins., every two days. Would that keep the question within the bounds of this SE?
    – plu
    Aug 11 at 1:58
  • @plu ....sort of? The nutrition questions are intended to be in support of a fitness program, this is more of an academic question. The lines are always a bit blurry on nutrition, and there hasn't ever really been a good stack that survived past area51 specifically for nutrition. Maybe word it along the lines of "here's my fitness goals, and when I look at sugars I get confused between X and Y". And, we can always discuss freely in chat.
    – JohnP
    Aug 11 at 18:27
  • @JohnP Hopefully my edit keeps this question more in line with this SE. Even if this question ends up closed anyways, the answer given to it was satisfactory and was very helpful. // And thanks, I just discovered what "chat" even is (chat.stackexchange.com/…). //
    – plu
    Aug 12 at 2:42

1 Answer 1

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With added sugars, the answer seems obvious: Zero added sugar is best, but maximum is 25 grams for women, and 37.5 grams for men. (source)

That source is referencing the American Heart Association, in which they estimate that half of the 'discretionary calories' recommended by the (now superseded) 2005 US Dietary Guidelines1 could safely come from added sugar. These discretionary calories vary greatly with total daily calorie intake, and the difference values given by the AHA are based on further assumptions that men eat 2200 kcal/day and women eat 1800 kcal/day.

These value are absolutely not applicable for athletes, who are likely eating far more than 2200 kcal/day. For instance, the 2005 US Dietary Guidelines allocate 648 kcal of discretionary calories for people eating 3200 kcal/day, and half that amount would be 81 grams of sugar.

However, with the natural sugars, the answer is unclear. From this source, it lists multiple recommended serving sizes for fruit, vegetables and dairy.

That source is terrible for multiple reasons, and you should probably just ignore everything it says. It wrongly divides sugars into 'natural' and 'added', which results in the absurd claim that honey and agave nectar are not forms of added sugar, despite being almost pure sugar. It claims that natural sugars are only made from fructose and lactose, but in reality all fruits contain a mixture of varying amounts of fructose, glucose and sucrose.2 It states that one teaspoon of added sugar has 15 calories and excessive intake can lead to weight gain and obesity, but neglects to mention that the exact same holds for sugars naturally present in whole foods.

The real answer is that all sugar is natural, and 'natural' vs 'added' sugar is not a useful distinction, but 'whole foods' vs 'added sugar' is useful. The distinction between the two is that whole-foods contain other nutrients of benefit, and it is much harder to overeat on whole-foods than it is on, say, sugar sweetened beverages. However in this categorisation, any concentrated form of sugar must be considered 'added' sugar, regardless of to what degree it is processed. This includes all forms of sugar, honey, and agave nectar. Dried fruits, due to the fact they they concentrate the sugar content of the fruit, could also be considered 'added' sugar.

Within this categorisation, which is much more in line with the intentions of the American Heart Association and US Dietary Guidelines, you could stick to a limit of half the current guidelines'3 discretionary calories intake coming from added sugar, and not worry about limiting sugar from whole-foods at all, as long as your total calorie intake is not excessive.

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  • Thanks! To ensure I'm following part of the response correctly, the "dietary guidelines" source mentions 15% "of remaining calories are available for other uses (including added sugars and saturated fat)", in which half of that being 7.5% of the daily required caloric intake (which is understood to be variable depending on conditions), and with every gram of sugar being 4 calories? (livestrong.com/article/…)
    – plu
    Aug 11 at 6:09
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    Correct, yes. Though I think you could just as reasonably follow the 2005 guidelines instead if you preferred. The difference between the two in terms of discretionary calories is that the old guidelines allowed a higher percentage of calories to be discretionary as your total food intake increased, whereas the new ones are fixed at 15%. It wouldn't surprise me if it wasn't actually detrimental for a person eating 3200 kcal/day to consume 20% as discretionary cals, as was ok per the 2005 guidelines, but rather the change was just to make the guidelines simpler. Aug 11 at 6:27

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