Sugar is naturally found in foods such as fruit, vegetables, dairy, and grain. Natural sugars found in whole foods help fuel your body by providing energy for your body’s cells. Whole foods also contain elements that are essential and that are good for your body including fiber, antioxidants, and minerals. Too much added sugar, on the other hand, can negatively impact your health and even contribute to a shortened lifespan.
What is added sugar?
Sugars that are added to the naturally occurring sugars already found in food are considered added sugars. So why add sugar? Manufacturers may add sugars to make foods taste better. Americans tend to go overboard with added sugars in processed foods including:
- Soft drinks (almost half of added sugars in our diet comes from one source—sugary drinks)
- Sweets (including candy, cookies, pudding, ice cream, popsicles, and cake)
- Granola and protein bars
- Canned fruit
- Flavored yogurt
- Peanut butter, jams, and jellies
- Snacks (like honey mustard pretzels, BBQ flavored potato chips, flavored nuts, etc.)
- Condiments (including ketchup, pasta sauce, BBQ sauce, jarred salsa, salad dressing)
Why is added sugar bad?
Sugar can negatively impact your overall health causing a variety of issues and increasing your risk for many diseases/problems, including:
- Weight gain, obesity
- Elevated blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Elevated cholesterol, triglyceride levels
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Pancreatic cancer
- Dental issues, cavities
- Skin aging, wrinkles
How much sugar should we be consuming?
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends a 6 teaspoon per day limit for women and a 9 teaspoon per day limit for men. If you think that seems like a large allowance, keep in mind that the average 12-ounce can of soda contains 8 teaspoons of added sugar.
How much added sugar are we consuming?
On average, the American adult consumes about 17 teaspoons of sugar in one day. That is about twice the AHA’s recommended limit for men and nearly three times the recommended limit for women.
What can I do to limit my intake of added sugars?
First, you will want to read nutrition labels! The amount of added sugar in a product is listed on the Nutrition Facts label under total sugars. Remember to pay attention to total sugars in addition to added sugars If you have any other medical conditions in which you have to limit your total sugar intake.
Reading ingredient lists can also help you spot added sugars, which can be called by many names, including high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, dextrose, maltose, sucrose, cane sugar, molasses, honey, and fruit juice concentrate.
It is also important to be mindful of the serving size. If you eat double the serving size, then you’ll need to double the amount of sugars for that food or drink listed on the Nutrition Facts label.
Another idea to limit sugar intake: eat real food, and replace sugary foods for healthier alternatives. For example, flavor plain or sparkling water with fruit, mint, or cucumber instead of reaching for a soft drink. Try grilling or cooking fruit for dessert instead of eating a sweet confection. Make your own snacks and sauces so you can control the ingredients—including how much sugar goes into them. Instead of smothering your salad with store-bought dressing, try sprinkling it lightly with olive oil, vinegar, and herbs.
Harvard Health Publishing, “The sweet danger of sugar,” November 5, 2019.
American Heart Association, “Added Sugars.”
American Heart Association, “How Too Much Added Sugar Affects Your Health.”
American Heart Association, “Tracking Down Added Sugars on Nutrition Labels.”
Rachael Link, “All You Need to Know About the New Nutrition Facts Label,” Healthline, September 28, 2020.
American Heart Association, “Life is Sweet with These Easy Sugar Swaps.”
American Heart Association, “How much sugar is too much?”