The average American consumes about 22 teaspoons (355 calories) of added sugar a day, according to a report released yesterday by the American Heart Association (AHA). That amount should be cut down to a maximum of six teaspoons (100 calories) a day for women and nine teaspoons (150 calories) for men, the group recommends.

"For the first time we've created specific recommendations about the amount of sugars that can be consumed in a heart-healthy diet," lead report author Rachel Johnson, of the University of Vermont in Burlington, told Reuters.

A diet high in added sugar—the sort that makes up the sanguine syrups in sodas and saccharine snacks, rather than the natural sugars found, for instance, in whole fruits—could lead to obesity and cardiovascular disease, as well as diabetes and a host of other illnesses, according to the research compiled by the American Heart Association. And if Americans slim down, Johnson and her colleagues note, the country could shed billions of dollars in health care costs.

The biggest cloying culprit in the U.S. is soft drinks, which account for a third of the added sugars people consume. Next on the list are candies and sugar itself (16 percent) and cakes, cookies and pies (13 percent).

The report also notes that observational research has linked a high-sugar diet with one that's also low in important nutrients.

"Sugar has no nutritional value other than to provide calories," Johnson said in a prepared statement.

For its part, the industry group the Sugar Association did not see a sweet side to the report, issuing a statement that said, "Very few of the cited references by the AHA are directly related to sugars and heart health impacts," Reuters reports.

Diet drinks and artificial sweeteners might not hold the answer for those with a sweet tooth either, as studies have linked them to increased consumption and weight gain.

The Wall Street Journal's health blog has a handy list for locating the extra sugar in your daily diet.

Image courtesy of Uwe Hermann via Flickr