Confused About Added Sugars? Read a Nutritionist's Advice on the Matter

Do you have a sweet tooth? Thankfully, dietitian Julie Upton, MS, RD, of Appetite For Health is here to offer some great tips and facts all about sugar. You'll definitely want to keep these in mind the next time you buy groceries.


If you're like many women, you eat at least twice as much added sugar as you should — even if you steer clear of sweets, buy "organic" foods almost exclusively, and avoid soda and other sugary beverages. In fact, data from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention shows that the average woman eats some 240 calories a day from added sugars, or about 13 percent of her total calories. The American Heart Association recommends no more than five percent of total calories from added sugars, or 100 calories per day.

Why the sugar surplus? It's because so many foods and beverages contain it. One study recently reported that 74 percent of the processed foods purchased in supermarkets contain added sugars. Not to mention, these sugars are hiding in foods we'd least expect, including bread, crackers, condiments, tomato sauce, and frozen dinners.

Food labels are required to list total sugar content, but manufacturers don't have to indicate the breakdown of added sugar and naturally occurring sugar. Natural sugars found in foods like fruit, veggies, and milk are not considered detrimental because they are generally quite low and come packaged with so many other beneficial nutrients. This means their digestion and absorption are more gradual. Added sugars, however, should be limited for your health's sake. The AHA's recommendation for women is to limit added sugars to no more than six teaspoons per day.

With a little careful calculation, you can figure out the added sugar in any food. Here's how:

Step One: Check "Sugars" on the Food Label

Check the total sugars listed per serving (remember, this is per serving!), and keep in mind that every four grams of sugar are equivalent to one teaspoon.

Step Two: Check the Ingredient List

If a product contains sugar, you need to look at the ingredient list to see if there are any added sugars. This can be tricky, since there are more than 50 different added sugars used in processed foods and beverages. Click here for some of the most common names for added sugars. If none of these sweeteners are listed, the product's sugars are likely naturally occurring.

However, if you see an added sugar listed as one of the first three ingredients, or multiple added sugars are listed, you can bet a significant amount of the "total sugars" are from sweeteners. If you're stuck and can't figure out how much of the "total sugars" are from natural vs. added sources, call the manufacturer's number on the food package, and ask. This is a common question that representatives should have the answer to at their fingertips. (The answer may also be in the FAQ section of the brand's website.)