Brush Up on Your Basics: Sugar in the Diet

Written by | Posted under Health and Wellness, Nutrition | 4 years ago

Oh, Valentine’s Day. One day a year dedicated to romance and showering loved ones with teddy bears, kisses and warm words written on over-priced Hallmark cards. Well hopeless romantics, Valentine’s is O-V-E-R, and all you’ve got left is wilted roses and empty heart-shaped boxes of chocolates.  One day, or even a week of chocolate isn’t going to kill anyone, but now it’s time to brush the dust off your fruit and veggies crisper and brush up on your basics on sugar.  Most people who know a bit about fitness and nutrition, know that too much added sugar in the diet not only puts you at a higher risk for conditions like diabetes and heart disease, but can also wreak havoc on your attempts to get a flat mid-section.  Read on to find some tips to help reduce your intake and learn the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about sugar.

Are all sugars bad?

Sugar adds absolutely no nutrients to foods, but it does however add calories.  While some sugars are naturally-occurring, the typical American diet contains WAY too many added, processed sugars.  Naturally occurring sugar are mostly found in milk, as lactose, and fruit, as fructose.  While milk and fruit do contain natural sugars, it is important to remember that once these foods are taken out of their natural state, they will most likely also contain added sugars.  For example, a cup of plain yogurt contains about twelve grams of natural sugar, but once you opt for an artificially-flavored “fruit” yogurt, you will most likely be adding little real fruit, but instead ten to twenty grams of added sugar.


What is an added sugar?

As simply as I can put it, added sugars  are any calorie-containing sweetener other then the naturally-occurring lactose and fructose in milk and fruit.  You may automatically think of high fructose corn syrup or syrup when it comes to added sugars, but the term also includes natural sugar such as honey or raw sugar. Since food labels do not distinguish between naturally-occurring sugar and added sugars, be sure to read the ingredient lists.  Look out for any of the following to know if the food you are eating contains added sugar:

  • Brown sugar
  • Corn sweetener
  • Corn syrup
  • Sugar molecules ending in “ose” (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose)
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Fruit juice concentrates
  • Honey
  • Invert sugar
  • Malt sugar
  • Molasses
  • Raw sugar
  • Sugar
  • Syrup

How much added sugar can I eat daily?

Although there are no guidelines for sugar intake on food labels, some health advocacy groups, such as The American Heart Association (AHA), provide guidelines called “Recommended upper limit” for added sugar intake daily. Not only does sugar no nutrients to the diet, but each teaspoon contains approximately sixteen calories.  For women, the AHA recommends no more than 100 calories (or 25g) come from added sugar daily and for men, no more than 150 calories (or 37.5g) daily from added sugar.  When looking at a food label, keep in mind that every four grams of sugar is equivalent to one teaspoon of sugar. As a Registered Dietitian, my advice for someone trying to lose weight, especially belly fat, would be to keep consumption of added sugar as low as possible, and to focus on avoiding processed foods.

How much sugar does the average American diet contain?

While the above recommendation may not seem too hard to adhere to, it may shock you to hear that according to information from  The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the average American consumes approximately 22.2 tsp of added sugar daily, or a whopping 355 calories! This is more than triple the recommended amount for women, and double the recommended amount for men. Teenagers and men are the highest sugar consumers, and soft-drinks and sweetened beverages (fruit punch/fruitades) contributed the most to added sugar in the typical diet. Other top contributors included cookies, pies, cakes, sweetened milk, yogurt, and ice cream as well as sweetened cereals and grains.

How can I keep my intake of added sugars low?

As a Registered Dietitian, my three most useful tips to keep sugar low are as follows:

1. Read food labels- By looking at a food label and identifying what is in your food, you gain the power.  You have the ability to make an educated decision about what to put in your body.  If a particular food contains thirty grams of sugar, and you know your recommended upper limit is twenty-five grams, it is your choice to put that food down.  This needs to be done at the grocery store, BEFORE the food becomes a temptation at home.  You’ve already taken the first step by educating yourself; the second step is letting your knowledge empower your choices!

2. Do not drink your sugar- Drinking sweetened beverages will make it very difficult to keep your sugar intake on the lower end.  One twelve ounce sweet tea contains over thirty grams of added sugar, and even sports drinks like Gatorade can put you over your daily limit in just one container. Drink more water and find ways to quench your thirst without added sugars brewing your own flavored tea (blueberry green tea is my favorite), cutting sweetened beverages with water, or drinking club soda if you need some fizz.

3.  Go natural- Plain and simple, if you focus on fitting in enough of the good stuff, aka fruit, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat plain dairy, and lean meat and proteins, your body will naturally start craving less and less processed foods and sugar.  A good way to start would be to make a list of the foods you WANT to start including in your diet for good nutrition, rather than getting too hung up on what you need to get rid of.

Here are a few examples of hidden sugar simple swaps to reduce your intake.  :

  • 6oz Stoneyfield Organic Chocolate Underground fat-free yogurt: 29g sugar                                        6oz  Chobani fat-free Greek Vanilla yogurt: 13g sugar
  • Tall Starbucks Frappuccino: 32gsugar                                                                                                 Tall Starbucks Cafe Americano with 2 packets sugar: 8g sugar
  • Clif Blueberry Crisp bar: 22g sugar                                                                                                Kind Pomegranate Blueberry Pistachio and Antioxidant bar:13g sugar


“Frequently Asked Questions About Sugar.” American Heart Association. Web. 22 Feb. 2012. <>.



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