Nutrition Articles

The Hunt for Hidden Sugar

How Much of the Sweet Stuff is Hiding Your Foods?

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




















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.
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About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

Member Comments

    This is good info for people NEW to dieting, they will remember it the rest of their lives, but, unfortunately, it still doesn't prevent you from eating it. Just not as much, during those times you go on one plan or another. There is a lot more to overeating than crying and pointing to sugar or carbs, the experts just don't "get" that. It's decades we have tried to stop overeating, before processed foods, people over ate. - 2/6/2016 7:02:00 AM
    I jpeg that shows the hidden names of sugar in foods.

    nt-names-for-sugar - 2/6/2016 4:07:08 AM
  • Just wondering...
    Why is the link on the article for more information from the USDA considered "forbidden"
    on the server? Cannot get through it by the link nor by going to the actual website.
    Such a disappointment that it is not accessible.
    Would like an actual tracker for sugar too. I've seen the excuse from SP. Been there done that. If we need to know how much sugar we are taking in, we need a tracker to do so with. - 2/2/2016 1:21:08 PM
  • I like to track my "added sugar" amounts daily. When I put my foods into the favorite file-I just put added sugar grams under sucrose. That works fine for me to keep daily track of added sugars. - 1/27/2016 1:59:52 PM
  • I like to track my "added sugar" amounts daily. When I put my foods into the favorite file-I just put added sugar grams under sucrose. That works fine for me to keep daily track of added sugars. - 1/27/2016 1:58:54 PM
  • I generally check food labels and always look for products that are lower in sugar. In Canada,sugar is shown on the nutrition info label and if a product has too much sugar, I usually leave it on the shelf. That being said, there are sugars in so many foods so it is easy to consume too much. I never drink soda unless it is the only option and generally avoid any other sugary drinks including juice. I determined long ago that I wasn't going to "drink my calories" and opt for fruit with breakfast. A sugar tracker would be nice, but being careful about carb consumption is also a good idea worth following. - 1/15/2016 11:41:02 AM
  • I began tracking foods years ago...long before I became active on Spark. There are other tools available that track sugar, sodium, and other macronutrients. Spark's response that this is relatively new info is simply not good enough, and it is rather archaic! Sugars that naturally occur in food are different from the sugar added to enhance flavor in processed food. It is long past time for each of us to understand how much sugar we consume in a day. This is such an enormous piece in life's healthy living puzzle. Let your sparks fly, sounds like this is an excellent area of growth for spark. - 1/14/2016 7:39:14 AM
  • You have a carb tracker. Treat it as a sugar tracker and limit intake to 50-100g daily or less! - 10/11/2015 1:25:11 AM
  • I just watched 'That Sugar Film' which has scared me and has also made a lightbulb go off in my head. I'm consistently under on calories and carbs but still not losing weight as fast as I would have anticipated. Why? Sugar! I don't add any sugar to my diet, but have 'naturally occurring sugars' in fruit and products that are 'low fat' means that I am having about 3 - 6 times the amount of sugar i should be having.

    To the person that commented about sugars in fruit being okay and therefore it's tricky to add it to a tracker, I would suggest that naturally occuring or not, it's all sugar and contributes to the overall sugar intake. Having 5 pieces of fruit a day is excessive, one or two pieces of whole fruit is just right. More natural fats for me and also obviously, a vote for a sugar tracker. - 8/22/2015 4:18:14 PM
    sugar tracker please - 6/18/2015 10:53:25 PM
  • I'm glad this was a blog topic. Reading ingredient declarations and understanding what that stuff means matters.

    I'm especially glad to see that the blog addresses other sugar sources (that are rich in added sugars) like honey, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, etc. I'd add "agave syrup" as well. I've seen a few blogs that tout agave syrup as amazing stuff and then lambast HFCS. What's ironic is that agave syrup is very high in fructose.

    Thanks for a good lesson on sugars. - 4/21/2015 4:05:23 PM
  • I'm a little disappointed reading SCSPOON's comment on why Sparkpeople won't add a sugar tracker. I've actually had an account with Sparkpeople (on and off) for the last 10 years. It's been a great resource in the past for me and I dusted off my account today SPECIFICALLY so that I could track my sugars.

    So disappointing that this isn't going to happen. - 4/21/2015 1:44:13 PM
    Hello All,
    I just emailed the Spark People, you can find their email address on each page at the bottom under contact us. I'm posting what they sent me when I asked them to add "Sugar" to my tracker. Of course I understood their explanation, but was disappointed, because I would still like to track the actual "sugar" I'm consuming.
    Their response below:
    While you can add a large variety of vitamins and nutrients to your SparkPeople Nutrition Tracker, sugar is not one of them. There are several reasons why you can't track sugars.

    First, sugars are a newer addition to nutrition labels. Like fiber, you'll find sugars listed underneath carbohydrates on the nutrition facts label, but sugars are not required to be listed on all food labels. Only products that make a claim about sugar or sugar alcohols on their package (such as "sugar free" or "reduced sugar") must list the sugar content (in grams) on the nutrition facts label. Foods and products that contain sugars but do not make any sugar-related claims do NOT have to list sugars on their label. Because of this, it is impossible to get an accurate picture of what you're really eating.

    In addition, SparkPeople's nutrition experts do not recommend tracking this particular nutrient because it is misleading. Most carbohydrate-cont
    aining foods contain sugar. But the sugars listed on a nutrition facts label are NOT added sugars, as one might think. For example, fruit naturally contains the sugar fructose. Milk and other dairy products naturally contain lactose, which contributes 12 grams of sugar per cup of milk. None of this is added sugar, yet it is treated the same way on a nutrition facts label as table sugar or corn syrup.

    If you are concerned about your total sugar intake, Registered Dietitian Becky Hand usually suggests that you track total carbohydrates and keep those in a healthy level, as indicated by your nutrition plan. And everyone should make a conscious effort to limit sweets, candy, pie, cookies, syrup, jams, soda and other refined sugars.

    - 2/21/2015 10:37:59 AM
  • I went from 195 to 168 in about 3 months by giving up 2 basic things "Wheat" and "Soda".
    ...........also cut back on Ice Cream. Of course I gained a lot of it back when I went back to "Wheat", so I'm off of it again. Still don't drink Soda and don't miss it. Wheat is harder and I've been told Addictive. I've been told that Weight Watchers does not agree with me
    but I believe my key to weight loss is GLUTEN FREE which of course is WHEAT FREE.
    I'd love to hear other comments on Gluten Free. - 2/6/2015 8:29:22 AM
    I would love a sugar tracker! BUT I think it's a two edged sword. I just added up the amount of sugar in my breakfast and it's already OVER what I should be having. And guess what? I didn't have a sugar enhanced cereal. I had oats, greek yogurt an APPLE, BLUEBERRIES and A JAPANESE PERSIMMON. Each individual fruit contained more sugar than the yogurt and oats COMBINED.

    There are a lot of NATURALLY occurring sugars in fruits etc that we just don't think about, we think sugar is ONLY added to processed food, but it is a natural chemical. I think the danger of adding a sugar tracker is that it might encourage people to cut some healthier foods out of their diet too. Sugar comes in so many forms it's hard to keep track of and I think that could be one reason Sparkpeople haven't introduced a tracker. - 1/25/2015 4:51:36 AM

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