Nutrition Articles

The Hunt for Hidden Sugar

How Much of the Sweet Stuff is Hiding Your Foods?

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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

  • Angel food cake is so light and fluffy that it seems to me a 4 ounce piece would be HUGE! - 5/19/2016 10:32:42 AM
  • I only use stevia as well. - 4/29/2016 9:50:56 AM
  • Really that much sugar in a ginger snap? The ones I've eaten are about an inch and a half across!

    I've sworn off any of the artificial sugars and just use stevia, which to my knowledge is just dried juice. - 4/28/2016 2:20:21 PM
  • Great info.
    My question is as a diabetic, which is better real sugar or sweeter like Equal. Always wondered. - 4/28/2016 9:50:31 AM
    The link on the article for more information from the USDA considered "forbidden"
    on the server? What gives? Am I the only one having this problem? - 4/28/2016 9:05:32 AM
  • It's good to know that there are four grams in a teaspoon. I've always wondered. - 4/23/2016 9:49:26 AM
    7 tsp of sugar in a slice of angel food cake - so much for a healthy alternative - 4/14/2016 1:44:09 PM
  • I forgot all about this challenge tonight, when I shared a piece of Keylime Mango pie with my sister-in-law. I'll have to start again tomorrow. - 4/8/2016 8:38:04 PM
  • So pleased to see these articles on sugars and Diabetes. Information is invaluable. I will share it with my daughter, a diabetic. Of 5 years, and others. - 4/1/2016 4:39:17 AM
    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

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