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November 16, 2016

Discovering Hidden Sugars In Your Diet

By Kaci Adams, MS, RD, LDN

‘Tis the season for sugar, spice and everything nice; therefore, it is no wonder visions of sugar plums are starting to dance in your head.  With Halloween right behind us, and Thanksgiving and Christmas right around the corner, it seems that everywhere we look there is an opportunity to satisfy our sweet tooth.  But before you grab that pumpkin spice latte or peppermint mocha, piece of leftover Halloween candy, or Christmas cookie, give pause to think about the added sugars hiding in those treats.

What is added sugar?

There are two types of sugars found in our food supply- natural sugar and added sugars. Natural sugars are found in foods such as fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose).  Added sugars include all sugars (white sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, malt syrup, maple syrup, fructose sweetener, honey, molasses, dextrose, and dextrin) used as ingredients to sweeten processed and prepared foods.

The number one source of added sugars are sugary beverages (regular soda, sweetened coffee and tea drinks, juice, sports drinks, etc.).  They account for one-third of the added sugar consumed in America.  Candy, baked goods, dairy desserts and other grains such as sugary cereal and oatmeal are other common sources of added sugars (1).  High sugar content in some foods may be obvious, but beware of the hidden sugars of some less than obvious food choices such as marinades, dressings, and sauces.

Nutrition Hidden SugarsHow much added sugar SHOULD we be consuming? 

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that no more than 10% of total daily calories come from added sugars.  The American Heart Association reports adult men should be consuming no more than 9 teaspoons (tsp) (36g or 150cal) a day, and women should be consuming no more than 6 tsp (24g or 100cal) a day of added sugar. In addition, children and teens aged 2 to 18 years should consume less than 6 tsp of added sugars per day and no more than 8oz of sugar-sweetened beverages per week.  To put this into perspective, one 12oz can of Coke contains 39g or 10 tsp of sugar (1); therefore, consuming just one, 12oz can of soda puts you over the recommended amount of added sugar for a day.

How much sugar are we ACTUALLY consuming?

On average, adult men (20-60 years) consume 21 tsp or 335cal (12.7% daily intake), and adult women consume 15 tsp or 239cal (13.2% daily intake) of added sugar per day.  What is more frightening is that children and adolescents obtain approximately 16% of their total daily caloric intake from added sugars (2).  Therefore, Americans are currently consuming more than double the amount of recommended added sugar a day.

What are the consequences of consuming too much sugar?

Too much sugar in your diet can not only lead to tooth decay, but can also raise your risk of chronic diseases such as: obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.  A recent study published in JAMA (Journal of American Medical Association) Internal Medicine found that participants who consumed 25% or more of their daily calories from sugar were more than twice as likely to die from heart disease as those who consumed less than 10% daily calories from added sugar (4).  Heart disease risk factors due to added sugars include inflammation, increased triglycerides, and high blood pressure. Furthermore, sugary beverage intake has been linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes.  A recent meta-analysis found that consuming one serving (12oz) of sugar sweetened beverages a day leads to a 0.5lb weight gain/year (5). In addition, research indicates that those who consume one to two servings of sugar sweetened beverages a day have a 26% greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes due to increased insulin resistance and weight gain than those who consume none or less than one sugar sweetened beverage a month (6).

In fact, due to the health risks of excess added sugar intake, the Food and Drug Administration has ruled that beginning in 2018, revisions of the Nutrition and Supplement Facts Labels will be made to include grams of added sugar and percent daily value of added sugars in packaged food products.

Tips for reducing added sugar in your diet:

Due to the growing evidence of health risks resulting from too much added sugar intake, there is no doubt that we need to be taking steps to reduce the amount of sugar in our diets.  Below are some simple methods of reducing the amount of sugar in your diet.

  • Read Food Labels: Review ingredients of foods to identify those high in added sugars.  Ingredients are listed by weight in foods; limit consumption of foods where added sugars are at the beginning of ingredient list.  Look for words such as: sugar, sucrose, dextrose, honey, agave, brown sugar, cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, glucose, maltose, malt syrup, maple syrup, molasses, raw sugar, invert sugar, corn sweetener, and fructose.
  • Toss the table sugar:  Reduce the amount of sugar (white and brown sugar, honey, molasses, syrup, etc.) added to foods and drinks such as: cereal, pancakes, coffee or tea. Try cutting the usual amount of sugar you add by half and wean down from there.
  • Add fruit:  Add fresh or dried fruit (i.e. bananas, apples, berries, raisins) in place of sugar to sweeten foods such as cereal, oatmeal, yogurt, and pancakes and waffles.
  • Eliminate sugar sweetened beverages: Consume primarily water, and choose sugar-free or low-calorie beverages. Try adding fresh squeezed fruit to water or seltzer water for flavor.
  • Eat fresh, frozen, dried or canned fruits: Avoid fruit canned in syrup.  Choose fruit canned in water, natural juice, or no-sugar added juice. Drain and rinse in a colander to remove excess syrup or juice before consuming.
  • Reduce the quantity: Reduce the sugar called for in recipes by 1/3 to ½ without sacrificing flavor.
  • Substitute applesauce for sugar: Use equal amounts of unsweetened applesauce in place of sugar in recipes.
  • Experiment with spices and extracts: Enhance foods’ sweetness with spices and/or extracts instead of sugar. Try ginger, allspice, cinnamon or nutmeg, and almond, vanilla, orange, or lemon extracts.
  • Try non-nutritive sweeteners: The FDA has determined that non-nutritive sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose or saccharin are safe in moderation, and may be a way to satisfy your sweet tooth without adding more calories to your diet.
  • Portion control: Share dessert with a friend or family member and avoid second servings.
  • Volunteer: Offer to bring your favorite, lower-sugar dessert (i.e. baked apples or sugar-free puddings) to social functions.
  • Balance: If you decide to have dessert, remember to cut back on the other carbohydrate choices in your meal to help keep blood glucose levels on track.

For more information on how to reduce the sugar content in your diet to maintain a healthy lifestyle, contact Avance Care Specialty Services at 1-877-239-3429 to schedule an appointment with an Avance Care Dietitian.


  4. Yang Q, Zhang Z, Gregg EW, Flanders WD, Merritt R, Hu FB. Added Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Diseases Mortality Among US Adults.JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(4):516-524. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13563
  5. Malik Vasanti, Pan An, Willet Walter, Hu Frank. Sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain in children and adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013; 98 (4): 1084-1102
  6. Malik Vasanti, et al. Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Risk of Metabolic Syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care.2010 Nov; 33(11): 2477-2483.

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