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

  • Great article. Sugar is in so many things these days, its is just terrible. - 6/18/2016 2:24:49 PM
  • Thanks JRSTERN29. I finally got to see the FDA article. - 6/17/2016 9:23:04 PM
  • I couldn't follow the link to the paper on the http://fnic.nal.u website, but with a little digging I found this article:https://w
    /ency/article/002444.htm - 6/17/2016 10:01:20 AM
  • I think the FDA has new labeling requirements regarding sugar, separating natural and added sugar plus a single total. These are either only proposed or already passed and awaiting implementation. Of course it was opposed by food processors. Sounds like a great idea to me, especially since as a personal choice I avoid all artificial sweeteners and even stevia and the sugar alcohols. I've lived long enough to hear - "it's safe, it's safe, it's been tested...oops, it's not safe" Reducing my sugar consumption gradually has been and continues to be my plan. - 6/17/2016 6:11:25 AM
  • I wish the big food companies wouldn't add sugar but let us do it on our own. Of course, then we wouldn't become addicted.. oh, I see. $$$$ - 6/1/2016 11:00:45 AM
  • 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

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