Healthy Living

Food Guidelines: A Closer Look at Sugar, Salt and Saturated Fat

Feb. 26, 2016

The Food and Drug Administration released new dietary guidelines in January, suggesting we eat more vegetables, fruits and whole grains while reducing sugar, salt and saturated fat. The guidelines even gave specific percentages to help consumers, but some may find these numbers confusing. Joanna Lipp, a registered dietitian with UR Medicine’s Wilmot Cancer Institute, dives deeper into these recommendations and what they mean for your everyday diet.

bolws of salty, sugary, fatty snack foods

Health Matters: What did the guidelines recommend for sugar, saturated fat and sodium intake?

Lipp: The new guidelines say Americans should get no more than 10 percent of their calories from added sugar or from saturated or trans fats. They also suggest no more than 2,300 mg a day of sodium.

Health Matters: What is meant by added sugar, saturated fat or sodium?

Lipp: Added sugar is essentially sugar that does not naturally occur in foods. So here, they’re not talking about the sugar that’s found in an apple or a pear, but rather the sugar found in a cookie or a can of soda pop.

Saturated fat is most commonly found in meats and junk food, like potato chips or beef jerky.

Sodium, or salt, is needed for health. However, we require very little of it to survive. Few foods naturally contain a lot of salt, but salt is often added to foods. It’s that added salt that we want to avoid. Canned foods, including soups and vegetables, often contain a lot of added sodium.

Health Matters: How does this 10 percent figure translate into my day-to-day diet?

Lipp: For a diet of 1,800 calories a day, 10 percent would be 180 calories. So in this instance, the guidelines suggest you get no more than 180 calories each day from sugar. That comes out to about 45 grams or 11 teaspoons of added sugar per day. To put that in perspective, one 12-oz can of Coca-Cola is 180 calories.

Looking at saturated fat, 180 calories would be about 20 grams of saturated fat. About 1 oz of cheddar cheese contains 6 grams of saturated fat. Therefore, eating more than three 1-oz cubes of cheddar cheese would put you over the 180 calorie recommendation.

For sodium, Campbell’s Chunky classic chicken soup in the microwaveable bowl has 840 mg for a 1 cup serving. If you eat that, you’ve had more than one-third of the daily recommended sodium.

Health Matters: What does all this mean for me?

Lipp: When working with cancer patients and survivors, I recommend following a plant-based diet. This focuses on eating whole foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes while reducing your meat (which is often heavy in saturated fat) intake as well as the amount of processed foods you eat.

If you have specific questions about your diet, consider seeing a dietitian or talking to your doctor, who can make suggestions based on your individual situation.


Joanna Lipp, RD


Joanna Lipp, MS, RD, CNSC, CSO, is a clinical nutrition specialist with UR Medicine’s Wilmot Cancer Institute. She’s board-certified in oncology nutrition and counsels cancer patients and survivors on nutrition and eating healthfully.