One great way to eat healthier is to eat less sugar. This is especially true for added sugars, which are added to foods and drinks during processing and preparation. Eating and drinking too much added sugar can lead to health issues, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.1
It’s always better to eat less sugar — but how much is too much? The American Heart Association recommends the following:2
- Women should have no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams, or 100 calories) of sugar per day. This includes all foods and drinks you consume per day.
- Men should have no more than 9 teaspoons (37 grams, or 150 calories) of sugar per day. This includes all foods and drinks you consume per day.
One can of soda, for example, can contain a whopping 36 grams of added sugar. So going over the recommended sugar limits is surprisingly easy.
You probably know the usual suspects when it comes to added sugars, like candy, cakes, and cookies. But sugar also hides in unexpected foods — even those labeled healthy or organic. Here are 5 foods with a surprising amount of sugar, and how to make healthier choices.
A salad is often a healthy meal choice. But certain ingredients — such as salad dressing — can load what seems like a healthy meal with extra calories and sugar. Some dressings, like ranch, are well known for being less nutritious. But even "light" or fat-free dressings are often full of sugar. A packet of honey mustard dressing, for example, can have as much as 8 grams of sugar.
One simple fix? Make your own salad dressing so you can control exactly what’s in it. To add flavor without sugar, try minced garlic, lemon zest, or even fresh herbs.
A common culprit of hidden sugars is ketchup, which has about 4 grams of sugar per tablespoon. This means a quarter cup of ketchup on your next veggie burger equals 16 extra grams, or 4 tablespoons, of added sugar. So check the label of your favorite ketchup brand the next time you’re at the store to find one with less added sugar. Watch out for high amounts of sodium in condiments, too. A diet high in sodium can lead to high blood pressure and even stroke.3
While many granola bars contain heart-healthy whole-grain oats, they can also be full of added sugars. In fact, some bars with lower overall calories are still higher in sugar. And popular ingredients like chocolate chips and sugar-heavy dried fruit only add to the amount of sugar. A quarter cup of dried cranberries, for example, can have 29 grams of sugar.
One trick to choosing a smarter snack? Look at the ingredient list. Ingredients are listed in order of weight.4 So ingredients that weigh the most are listed first. If sugar or a sugar additive appears early on the list, you’ll want to find a different option.
Low-fat and flavored yogurt
Sugar can hide in all kinds of yogurt. While low-fat yogurt may seem like a good choice, sugar is often added to give it more flavor. Certain fruit-flavored yogurt can have almost 15 grams in one small container. And supermarket yogurts that come with "fruit" usually contain a fruit syrup that’s also high in sugar. Try to avoid flavored yogurt, and instead reach for plain Greek or 2%-fat yogurt. To add sweetness, mix in fresh fruit or berries — like fresh or frozen strawberries or blueberries.
Sugary beverages, like soda, sports drinks, and certain fruit juices, are the number one source of added sugar in Americans’ diets.5 Many fruit juices, and even some types of applesauce, are made with fruit juice concentrate. That means the water has been removed from the fruit, leaving mostly sugar behind. Plus, it doesn’t contain any of the fiber found in an actual piece of fruit — so you’ll end up with a high dose of sugar without feeling full. It’s better to eat, not "drink," fruits. Eating an apple, instead of sipping on apple juice or a smoothie, will give you a dose of sweetness while helping you feel full.
And instead of drinking sugar-laden sodas or juices, try making your own flavored water. You can add fresh berries for sweetness, muddled jalapeño for spice, or slices of cucumber and orange for a spa-inspired water.
Healthy eating tips
You don’t have to simply cut all these foods from your shopping list. Just be sure to carefully read food labels. Watch out for details like:
- Total sugar and added sugar — On most package labels, you’ll see total sugar and a separate line for added sugars. If "includes" is on the added sugar line, that’s the amount in addition to naturally occurring sugar. So a label may read: "Total Sugar 12g, Includes 10g Added Sugar." That means that of the 12 grams of sugar, 10 are added sugars.6
- %DV (Percent Daily Value) — If a food or beverage is high in added sugar, the Daily Value will be 20% or higher. Try to choose products that are low in added sugar, with a 5% Daily Value or lower.7
- Types of sugar — Remember that sugars — especially added sugars — have many names. This includes agave nectar, brown sugar, cane sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fructose, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, lactose, malt sugar or malt syrup, maltose, molasses, raw sugar, and sucrose.
For more information on healthy eating, visit our online resource guide.