According to the American Heart Association, an average American eats 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day. The recommendation is only six teaspoons a day for women and children (100 calories) and nine teaspoons for men (150 calories). Sugar is found in a lot of foods and, with more than 60 names, is not always easy to spot. To make healthier choices for your family, start by finding the hidden sugars in your food.
While added sugar is in obvious foods like desserts, candy and junk food, you also will find it in unlikely foods you probably consider healthy and keep as kitchen staples like pasta, bread and salad dressing.
There’s a difference between foods that naturally contain sugar or carbohydrates — like grains, starches, fruits, vegetables and dairy — because they also supply a variety of nutritional benefits, according to Lindsay Bailey, registered dietician, certified diabetes educator and certified eating disorder registered dietitian at Akron Children’s Hospital. “These foods supply nutrition like vitamins, minerals and fiber outside of just sugar alone,” she says.
You may be surprised to learn that some foods you consider “healthy” have a lot of added sugar, according to Bailey, who says that two packets of flavored oatmeal contain about six teaspoons of added sugar, which is the daily recommendation for women and children. Granola and granola bars are considered to be healthy, but also are ripe with added sugars.
Another breakfast favorite, flavored yogurt, has a lot of added sugar, too. She recommends choosing plain yogurt or taking a closer look at the nutritional information to find a flavored option that is low in sugar.
How to Spot Added Sugar
Nutrition facts labels do not separate naturally occurring sugar from added sugar. According to the Johns Hopkins Hospital, an easy way to identify hidden sugars in the ingredients list is to look for the following terms: “syrup” (like corn or rice syrup); a word that ends in “ose” (fructose, sucrose, maltose, dextrose); or if “sugar” is in the name (raw, cane, brown, or confectioners). Additionally, added sugar can be found in fruit nectars, concentrates of juices, honey, agave and molasses.
There is good news when it comes to spotting added sugar more easily. “As of 2016, the Food and Drug Administration announced the new Nutrition Facts Label which includes ‘Added Sugars,’” Bailey says. “Manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual sales must switch to the new label by Jan. 1, 2020, and manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales have until Jan. 1, 2021, to comply. Furthermore, the new label is already appearing on some cereal or snack food company packages now.”
What About Artificial Sweeteners and Drinks?
The American Diabetes Association states that artificial sweeteners or sugar substitutes should be consumed in moderation. When it comes to beverages, sugar substitutes found in diet or zero calorie drinks should still be limited.
“Try seltzer, sparkling or infused waters like cucumber mint, strawberry basil or citrus waters with lemons, limes and oranges,” recommends Bailey.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting juice to no more than 4 oz. (half a cup) daily for toddlers ages 1-3 years old; for children ages 4-6 years old, fruit juice should be restricted to 4 to 6 oz. daily; and for children ages 7-18 years old, juice intake should be limited to 8 oz., or one cup, per day.
“Ultimately, it is recommended to eat fruit versus drink fruit to reap the benefits of additional fiber and nutrients,” Bailey says.
Your best bet is to purchase simple foods and read ingredient labels to spot hidden sugars.
Bailey suggests purchasing “whole foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, beans and legumes, and whole grains that do not have added sugars. Processed foods may or may not have added sugars, so having the knowledge to look at labels and understand ingredients can help a consumer in making an educated choice.”
Bailey provides the following cheat sheet of names to help you spot added sugar on ingredient labels:
corn syrup solids
high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
nectars (e.g., peach nectar, pear nectar)
white granulated sugar