* Women should limit extra sugar calories to 100 per day
* Men should eat no more than 150 extra sugar calories
* Soft drinks No. 1 source of added sugar in U.S. diet
Americans need to cut back dramatically on sugar consumption, the American Heart Association said on Monday in a recommendation that is likely to rile food and beverage companies.
The group said women should eat no more than 100 calories of added sugar per day, or six teaspoons (25 grams), while most men should keep it to just 150 calories or nine teaspoons (37.5 grams).
That's far below the 22 teaspoons (90 grams) or 355 calories of added sugar consumed by the average American each day, according to a 2004 government survey.
The guidelines apply to any sugar or sugar syrup added in food processing or at the table as opposed to sugar found naturally in food such as fruit.
But the researchers take particular aim at the estimated $115 billion U.S. market for soft drinks, which Johnson said represent the No. 1 source of added sugars in the American diet.
For the first time we've created specific recommendations about the amount of sugars that can be consumed in a heart-healthy diet, Rachel Johnson of the University of Vermont, lead author of the policy statement published in the journal Circulation, said in a telephone interview.
Johnson said U.S. labels on packaged foods do not distinguish between naturally occurring or added sugars, but she said anything labeled syrup in the ingredients list is likely an added sugar.
Too much sugar not only makes Americans fat but also is a key culprit in diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, according to the report.
Prior heart association recommendations issued in 2006 recommended people minimize intake of added sugars. Now the group is eliminating any room for doubt, Johnson said.
U.S. Department of Agriculture dietary guidelines are less specific. They recommend decreased intake of food or beverages with added sugars as a way to maintain a healthy weight, but they do not give specific calorie limits.
The heart association report focused on added sugars, not naturally occurring sugars in food.
Over the past 30 years, total calorie intake has increased by an average of 150 to 300 calories per day, and approximately 50 percent of this increase comes from liquid calories (primarily sugar-sweetened beverages), the report reads.
And daily consumption of sweetened soft drinks rose 70 percent between 1970 and 2000. One 12-ounce (0.35 litre) can of regular soda contains roughly 130 calories, which exceeds a woman's daily discretionary sugar budget.
While the experts said no single food or food group is the primary cause of the nation's obesity epidemic, they said many studies have shown a correlation between higher intake of sweetened beverages and obesity.
Johnson said sweetened foods and beverages displace more nutritious foods and beverages for many people.
If people are to get a balanced, heart-healthy diet filled with whole grains, fruit, vegetables and low-fat protein, there is not much room for empty calories from added sugar, she said.
Johnson said diet soft drinks are a reasonable substitute for people trying to wean themselves from sweet drinks.
We're not saying 'remove added sugars from your diet.' Sugars do add to the enjoyment and enhance the flavor of foods, but maybe it would be better choice to add your sugars in a sweetened whole grain cereal rather than in an empty-calorie soft drink or candy, she said.
The food industry often blames increases in obesity on a sedentary lifestyle. Johnson said if people want to eat more sweet treats, they need to increase their sugar budget by becoming more physically active. (Additional reporting by Martinne Geller in New York; Editing by Maggie Fox and Xavier Briand)