There’s Not Much Room For Empty Calories

This is a great article on sugar and the recommended intake from I had to share…

When the American Heart Association issued its scientific statement on “Dietary Sugars Intake and Cardiovascular Health,” it based its advice on what scientists call “discretionary calories” —that is, how much room you have for empty calories once you’ve eaten all the vegetables, fruit, lean protein, low-fat dairy, whole grains, and other foods you need to stay healthy. (It’s like discretionary income that people can spend on luxuries once they’ve paid their bills.)

“There’s no question that sugars are a major culprit in obesity, because they’re a source of empty calories that most Americans don’t need,” says Linda Van Horn, a professor of preventive medicine at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. “They have no nutritional benefit whatsoever.”

The fact is that most people simply can’t afford a 500-calorie scone or a 600-calorie venti White Chocolate Mocha when they stop at Starbucks.

“Added sugars either crowd out healthy foods, or they make you fat if you eat them in addition to healthy foods,” explains Frank Sacks, a professor of cardiovascular disease prevention at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

So the heart association turned to the discretionary calorie allowances calculated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (To find yours, go to

A typical woman, who should shoot for 1,800 calories a day, for example, would need about 1,600 calories a day from vegetables, fruits, lean protein, dairy foods, and whole grains to get the nutrients she needs.

That leaves about 200 calories to spend (like discretionary income) on whatever she wants. “We said, okay, half of that discretionary calorie allowance can come from solid fats and half can come from added sugars,” explains Rachel Johnson. That’s about 100 calories each. Johnson, a professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont, chaired the heart association panel that issued the new sugars advice.

A typical man should shoot for 2,200 calories a day. He gets about 150 calories to spend on each.

“Solid fats” include not just butter or margarine, but the extra fat you get if you choose dairy foods (milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream) that aren’t fat-free, poultry with skin, and cakes, cookies, pies, and other sweets that aren’t fat-free. So unless you eat mostly fat-free foods, your 100-calorie solid-fat allowance is going to disappear quickly.

And your added sugars allowance will shrink if you want a glass of wine or beer. “It’s been shocking to some people when I’ve said that we’ve been fairly conservative, because if you’re consuming alcohol regularly, you should be having even less added sugar,” notes Rachel Johnson, a professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont.

Bottom line: Treats are ok on occasion, but on a daily basis if you are concerned about eating a healthy diet there aren’t many extra calories leftover.