High intake of added sugars is implicated in numerous poor health conditions, including obesity, high blood pressure and other risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
Added sugars and solid fats in food, as well as alcoholic beverages are categorized as "discretionary calories" and should be eaten sparingly.
Most American women should consume no more than 100 calories of added sugars per day; most men, no more than 150 calories.
Soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages are the number one source of added sugars in the American diet.
Lead author Rachel K. Johnson, associate provost and professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont in Burlington, said, "Sugar has no nutritional value other than to provide calories. Consuming foods and beverages with excessive amounts of added sugars displaces more nutritious foods and beverages for many people."
The Association suggests a dietary pattern that is rich in fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, high-fiber whole grains, lean meat, poultry and fish.
"This new statement expands on earlier recommendations and gives consumers more detailed guidance by recommending a specific upper limit on added-sugars intake," Johnson said.
This is the first time the Association is providing recommendations on specific levels and limits on the consumption of added sugars.
The statement says that most women should consume no more than 100 calories (about 25 grams) of added sugars per day. Most men should consume no more than 150 calories (about 37.5 grams) each day. That's about six teaspoons of added sugar a day for women and nine for men.
In contrast, the statement cites a report from the 2001-04 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) that showed the average intake of added sugars for all Americans was 22.2 teaspoons per day (355 calories).
Soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages are the number one source of added sugars in Americans' diet, according to the statement. "One 12-ounce can of regular soda contains about 130 calories and eight teaspoons of sugar," Johnson said.
In addition, the statement recommends that no more than half of a person's daily discretionary calorie allowance should come from added sugars.
Discretionary calories refer to the number of calories "left over" after a person eats the recommended types and amounts of foods to meet nutrient requirements, such as fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, high-fiber whole grains, lean meat, poultry and fish. Added sugars, alcoholic beverages and solid fats including saturated fat and trans fat are typically considered discretionary calories that are to be included after individual daily nutrient requirements are met.
"It is important to remember that people's discretionary calorie 'budgets' can vary, depending on their activity level and energy needs," Johnson said. "So, if you can't live with the recommended limits on your added sugars, you'll have to move more."
For example, a moderately active 51-55 year-old woman who eats 1,800 calories per day and maintains her weight would have about 195 discretionary calories per day and only about 100 calories, or half that amount, should come from added sugars. In comparison, if that same woman, still maintaining her weight, was more physically active and burned 2,200 calories a day, she could consume 2,200 calories a day, and would have a larger discretionary 'budget' of about 290 calories. About half of that amount, or 145 calories, could come from added sugars.
To ensure proper nutrient intake in the diet and to limit excess calories, Johnson said people should be sure foods high in added sugars are not taking the place of foods with essential nutrients or increasing their total calorie intake.
She recommended that people use their added sugars "allotment" as a vehicle to enhance the flavor of otherwise nutrient-rich foods. For example, choosing a nutrient-rich dairy product, such as a flavored yogurt or a sugar-sweetened whole-grain breakfast cereal, would be a better choice than a nutrient-void candy.
Many dietary specialists hailed the new guidelines. However some questioned whether making yet another complicated equation in the list of nutrition recommendations marketed to the public helps people eat healthier or just confuses the average consumer.
"Strictly from a health standpoint, sugar is a 'triple threat' - it provides extra calories, no nutrients, and it may displace other foods and nutrients in the diet that are more beneficial," said Dr. Donald D. Hensrud, an associate professor of Preventive Medicine and Nutrition at the Mayo Clinic.
But many doctors doubt the AHA recommendation would have such an effect on the public at large.
"It will be difficult for most people to adhere to the 100 calorie or 150 calorie limit, and most people will not know what it means. The average person won't remember such a vague concept," said Beth Kitchin, assistant professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham department of Nutrition Sciences.
"It would have been better to specifically instruct people to 'avoid drinking soda' and to warn 'soda and sugary snacks have been associated with obesity and may pose cardiovascular risks," she said.
Other nutritional experts worried about the "one size fits all" recommendations put out by health organizations.
Not everyone needs to restrict sugar. For people who are active, not overweight, and eating an otherwise healthy diet, extra sugar is not going to be detrimental," said Carla Wolper, research faculty at the New York Obesity Research Center at St. Luke's Hospital in New York City"I think we need to tailor our recommendations to specific populations rather than throw out these general guidelines that most people will ignore anyway," she said.