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The Hunt for Hidden Sugar

How 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 31 teaspoons (124 grams) of added sugar every day. That sugar alone adds up almost 500 extra calories—about 25% of the average person's caloric intake. WOW!

Less is More
So how much should you limit your sugar intake? Several health organizations, including the American Heart Association, suggest that added sugar should be limited to no more than 6-7 percent of your total calories. This does not include naturally occurring sugars found in fruits (fructose) and dairy products (lactose). The chart below lists the maximum recommended daily sugar intake based on various calorie levels.

Maximum Sugar Intake

Daily Calorie Intake

Grams of Sugar

Teaspoons

1,200

21

5

1,500

26

6

1,800

31

7

2,100

36

9

2,400

42

10

2,700

47

12


Deciphering Labels
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.
     
Hidden Sugars in Foods

Food

Serving Size

Added Sugar

Cakes and Cookies

Angel food cake

4 oz piece

7 tsp

Banana Cake

4 oz piece

2 tsp

Brownie, no icing

1 oz piece

4 tsp

Cheesecake

4 oz piece

2 tsp

Chocolate cake, iced

4 oz piece

10 tsp

Chocolate chip cookie

1 cookie

2 tsp

Coffee cake

4 oz piece

5 tsp

Cupcake, iced

4 oz piece

6 tsp

Fig Newtons

2 cookies

2 tsp

Gingersnaps

1 cookie

3 tsp

Glazed doughnut

1 doughnut

4 tsp

Oatmeal cookie

1 cookie

2 tsp

Candies

Chocolate candy bar

1 bar

4.5 tsp

Chocolate mint

1 piece

2 tsp



For more information about hidden sugars in foods, check out this helpful resource from the USDA.
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