The Hunt for Hidden SugarHow Much of the Sweet Stuff is Hiding Your Foods?
-- By Becky Hand, Licensed & Registered Dietitian
Ready for a little experiment? Grab that jar of sugar, a measuring spoon, a plate and a can of regular soda. Then, dump one teaspoon of sugar onto the plate. Repeat this nine more times. Do you know what you have, besides a mess? The amount of sugar in one 12-ounce can of soda! Just look at that mound!
Now locate the sugar listing on the soda's nutrition label—40 grams. Four grams of sugar equals one teaspoon. Do the math. That innocent can of pop contains 10 teaspoons of sugar and 160 empty calories.
Even if you don’t drink regular soda, the typical American now eats the equivalent of about 17 teaspoons (68 grams) of added sugars every day. That sugar alone adds up to 270 extra calories—more than 13% of the average person's caloric intake.
Less is More
So how much should you be limiting these added sugars? Several health organizations, such as the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the World Health Organization and the American Heart Association have established guidelines regarding the intake of added sugars. A healthy eating pattern should limit added sugars to less than 10 percent of calories per day. This does not include naturally occurring sugars found in fruits (fructose) and dairy products (lactose). The chart below lists this maximum recommended daily sugar intake based on various calorie levels.
Maximum Sugar Intake
(10% of Calorie Intake)
(10% of Calorie Intake)
It can be confusing to try to find out how much added sugar a food contains. The sugar listing on a Nutrition Facts label lumps all sugars together, including naturally-occurring milk and fruit sugars, which can be deceiving. This explains why, according to the label, one cup of milk has 11 grams of sugar even though it doesn't contain any sugar “added” to it. <pagebreak>
To determine how much sugar has been added to a food product, follow these two tips:
- Read the ingredients list. Learn to identify terms that mean added sugars, including sugar, white sugar, brown sugar, confectioner’s sugar, corn syrup, dextrin, honey, invert sugar, maple syrup, raw sugar, beet sugar, cane sugar, corn sweeteners, evaporated cane juice, high fructose corn syrup, malt, molasses, and turbinado sugar, to name a few.
Refer to the chart below for approximate amounts of hidden sugar in foods.Check package nutrition facts label and ingredient list for greater accuracy on specific brands.
Hidden Sugars in Foods
|Cranberry Juice Cocktail||1 cup||7 ½ tsp||30 g|
|Lemonade||1 cup||7 tsp||28 g|
|Soda Pop||12 ounce can||10 tsp||40 g|
|Sports Drink||20 ounce bottle||8 ½ tsp||34 g|
|Sweet Tea||1 cup||5 ½ tsp||22 g|
|Breakfast Toaster Pastry||1 pastry||4 - 4 ½ tsp||16 – 18 g|
|Cereal Fruit Bar||1 bar||2 ½ - 3 tsp||10 - 12 g|
|Chocolate Puffed Cereal||1 cup||3 ½ tsp||14 g|
|Coffee cake||4 oz piece||5 tsp||20 g|
|Frosted Shredded Wheat Cereal||1 cup||3 tsp||12 g|
|Fruit Ring Cereal||1 cup||3 tsp||12 g|
|Glazed Doughnut||1 doughnut||4 tsp||16 g|
|Granola Bar||1 bar||2 tsp||8 g|
|Honey Coated Cereal||1 cup||3 tsp||12 g|
|Instant Sweetened Oatmeal||1 packet||3 tsp||12 g|
|Angel Food Cake||4 oz piece||7 tsp||28 g|
|Banana Cake||4 oz piece||2 tsp||8 g|
|Brownie, no icing||1 oz piece||4 tsp||16 g|
|Cheesecake||4 oz piece||2 tsp||8 g|
|Chocolate Cake, iced||4 oz piece||10 tsp||40 g|
|Chocolate Chip Cookie||1 cookie||2 tsp||8 g|
|Cupcake, iced||4 oz piece||6 tsp||24 g|
|Fig Newton Cookies||2 cookies||2 tsp||8 g|
|Gingersnaps||1 cookie||3 tsp||12 g|
|Oatmeal Cookie||1 cookie||2 tsp||8 g|
|Vanilla Pudding||½ cup||5 tsp||20 g|
|Chocolate Candy Bar||1 bar||4 ½ tsp||18 g|
|Chocolate Mint||1 piece||2 tsp||8 g|
|Condiments and Sauces|
|BBQ Sauce||2 tablespoons||3 tsp||12 g|
|Jam and Jelly||1 tablespoon||2 ½ - 3 tsp||10 – 12 g|
|Ketchup||2 tablespoons||2 tsp||8 g|
|Pasta or Spaghetti Sauce||½ cup||2-3 tsp||8-12 g|
|Salad Dressing||2 tablespoons||½ - 1 tsp||2-4 g|
|Bread, Whole Grain||1 slice||1 tsp||4 g|
|Crackers, Whole Grain||16 small crackers||1 tsp||4 g|
|Peanut Butter||2 tablespoons||¾ tsp||3 g|
|Tomato Soup||1 cup||3 tsp||12 g|
|Vanilla Yogurt||8 ounces||3 tsp||12 g|
There is room to include a small amount of added sugars in your eating plan to improve the palatability and flavor of nutrient-rich foods—a sprinkle of brown sugar on your morning oatmeal or a dribble of honey in tart plain yogurt. However, the main sources of added sugars like sugar-sweetened beverages, sweets and snacks, need to be limited. These type foods provide little nutritional value to one’s diet but may be adding a substantial amount of unwanted calories.