Get the Scoop on Those Sneaky Added Sugars

There’s a sneaky marauder making its way through your body, and it’s out to do you harm. Its name is sugar. You may not always know how it got there, but it can hurt you.

Sugar is in fruits and vegetables and other foods that are part of a healthy diet, like dairy and grains. But there are also added sugars in many foods, including some you wouldn’t expect. And it’s that added sugar that can cause problems.

Added sugar can lead to serious health issues, including a greater risk for heart attack and stroke. leaving site icon Other health problems fueled by added sugar include:

  • Higher blood pressure
  • Inflammation
  • Weight gain
  • Diabetes
  • Fatty liver disease
How Much Is Too Much?

Added sugars contribute calories to your diet, but they don’t give you vital nutrients. Filling up on foods and drinks with too many added sugars makes it hard to keep up a healthy eating plan. You’ll take in too many calories without getting the nutrients you need.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, leaving site icon people over 2 years old should keep sugars to less than 10 percent of their total daily calories. Children under 2 should not have added sugar at all.

So how much sugar is 10 percent? If you eat 2,000 calories per day, that means you should have no more than 200 calories from sugar. That’s about 12 teaspoons or 50 grams. One 12 ounce can of soda has around 40 grams. A 5 ounce serving of flavored yogurt has 15 grams.

Keep in mind that many people need to eat less than 2,000 calories per day to maintain a healthy weight. That means less sugar, too. Use this calorie calculator leaving site icon to estimate your daily calorie needs.

Most Americans are having too much added sugar. leaving site icon All that sugar is adding up to higher levels of obesity, diabetes and other serious health issues.

Many people may not even know they’re getting too much. That’s because added sugars are sneaky.

How Much Sugar Are You Consuming?

How can you find out how much sugar you’re consuming? The first step is to take a look at your diet.

Be sure to think about what you drink. For most people, drinks are a main source of added sugar. Some culprits are presweetened drinks like sodas, energy drinks and fruit juices. But more sugar than you realize may also be sneaking in when you sweeten your coffee and tea.

While a lot of added sugars come from foods we think of as sweets, like desserts and candy, there are added sugars in many foods that may not seem sweet. Pasta sauce, gravy, condiments, flavored yogurts and even “healthy” cereals all have added sugar.

Check the Label — and the Serving Size

To find out if a packaged food has added sugars, look at the Nutrition Facts panel. leaving site icon You will see “added sugars” under the line for “total sugars.”

If there is no Nutrition Facts panel, look at the list of ingredients. leaving site icon Ingredients will be listed in the order of how much of an item is in the product. Ingredients that make up more of the food or drink will be listed first.

Also keep in mind that sugar has many names. There are names that end in “ose,” like maltose and sucrose and high fructose corn syrup. But you may also see molasses, cane sugar, corn sweetener, raw sugar, syrup, honey or fruit juice concentrates. All of those count as added sugars.

Be sure to check the serving size, and pay attention to how much you’re actually eating or drinking. How much you’re having may be more than the serving size on the label.

Trim Your Sugar Intake

Taking a closer look at what you eat and making sure you’re not filling up on added sugars can help you feel better and lower your risk for disease. Once you add up all the sugar in your diet, you’ll likely find that you need to cut back.

Here are some easy ways to cut back on added sugars:

  • Read the label. Pay attention to what’s in the prepared foods you eat. There may be versions of the foods you like with less sugar. Or you can cut back on your serving sizes.
  • Cut the amount of sugar you add to your coffee, cereal or tea in half. When baking, slash sugar by one-third to one-half. You may not even notice the difference.
  • Buy fresh fruits instead of juice. If fresh fruit isn’t handy, try fruit canned with water
  • Choose water over sodas and sports drinks. If that’s a tough change, start by choosing reduced-sugar juices and zero-calorie drinks, including flavored water, diet soda or unsweetened tea.
  • Boost flavor with spices instead of more sugar. Try ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon.

Need more tips on nutrition? Check out the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025leaving site icon

Sources: The sweet danger of sugar, leaving site icon Harvard Medical School, 2022; Know Your Limit for Added Sugars, leaving site icon Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2022; Get the Facts: Added Sugars, leaving site icon CDC, 2021; Added Sugarsleaving site icon  American Heart Association, 2021; How to Read Food and Beverage Labels, leaving site icon National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health, 2022; Added Sugars on the New Nutrition Facts Label, leaving site icon U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2022
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