It’s the most wonderful time of year! And the time of year that holiday cookies and other goodies end up in the break room. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could confidently decide if you can participate in enjoying this act of goodwill? You can! Here’s how:

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting added sugar to 10% of total calories. 

Just in case you’re trying to visualize that, here’s what 10% of calories from added sugar looks like in teaspoons for three different calorie goals:

  • 2500 calorie diet:  < 62.5 g/ day or <15 ½ teaspoons/ day
  • 2000 calorie diet: < 50 g/ day or <12 ½ teaspoons/ day
  • 1500 calorie diet: < 37.5 g/ day or < 9 teaspoons/ day


Knowing your limit helps you confidently decide how much is too much. Check the nutrition facts because the amount of sugar might be different than you think!

Holiday Item                                                            Sugar

4 Gingersnap Cookies from Walmart……………10 g (2 teaspoons)

1 Serving Walmart Sugar Cookie Mix…………… 12 g (3 teaspoons)

1 cup Apple Cider………………………………… 24 g (6 teaspoons)

1 Grande Starbucks Hot Chocolate……………. 37 g (9 teaspoons)

½ cup Eggnog…………………………………….20 g (5 teaspoons)

½ cup Ice Cream………………………………….. 14 g (3 ½ teaspoons)

1 tablespoon Coffee Mate Peppermint Mocha Creamer… 5 g (1 teaspoon)


Remember that added sugar hides in foods like sauces, condiments, yogurt, protein bars, and cereal. Read our blog on Sugar in Sauces for more info on that.


Are Natural Sugars Okay?

Yes- if they’re from whole food sources! Here’s why: whole foods have protein and fiber that slow digestion and keep your blood glucose stable.

  • Whole apples (skin on), bananas, pears, dates
  • Whole Sweet potato
  • Milk

If you’re craving something sweet and festive, try making a healthy crumble out of North Carolina sweet potatoes and apples. Microwave chopped sweet potatoes (peeled) and apples (skin on) with about ½ cup of water and a bit of cinnamon. Remove them when they’re nice and soft. Serve with granola sprinkled on top. 

Natural Sugars to Limit:

Don’t be fooled! Honey, turbinado sugar, molasses, coconut sugar, and the like are still simple sugars. Although some of them have lower glycemic indexes than others and may offer small amounts of nutrients, continue to limit them to <10% of daily calories. 


The tongue interprets five tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami (savory). You can make your food taste sweeter by adding a little bit of salt. 

You can trick your tongue in other ways, too. 

  • Reduce the sugar in your recipe by 1/3rd 
  • Use cinnamon, vanilla bean, nutmeg, and other flavors that remind you of sweet foods



Sweeteners are considered safe, and they are regulated by the FDA. Each sweetener has an Acceptable Daily Intake, which is the amount that you can safely consume daily without harm. Most sweeteners are sweeter than table sugar, so you don’t need to use as much of them to get the same amount of sweetness. 

Your personal limit on sweeteners depends on your weight. The ADIs in these examples are based on a 132-pound person. They assume that each packet = 2 teaspoons of sugar. 

  • Splenda (600x sweeter than sugar) ADI = 23 packets
  • Truvia (200-400x sweeter than sugar) ADI = 9 packets
  • Equal (200x sweeter than sugar) ADI = 50 packets

For more information, go to the FDA website and scroll down to the chart at the bottom of the page. 

Back to the Cookies

Should you eat them? Of course you can! But keep track of how many sweets you’re eating across the whole day and try to keep your total added sugar within 10% of total calories even during the holidays. Use the tips above to make food taste good without adding extra sugar.