7 minutes min read
A quick tour of the back labels of the food in your pantry or down the grocery aisle might have you a bit surprised. From high fructose corn syrup to cane sugar to the full dictionary of “-ose” (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose, and so on), you’ll find that sugars are everywhere!
When did sugar get so out of control? And why exactly is added sugar so bad for us in the first place? Join us as we dive into the not-so-sugar-sweet details of our added sugar addiction.
What Is Added Sugar?
As the name suggests, added sugar is sugar added in the preparation or processing of a food item. It’s not naturally occurring, but rather it exists to enhance the flavor—like the sugar you add to your coffee or the sugar manufacturers add to your cereal.1 Sugar also gets added to food and beverage items to help extend their shelf life.1
Unlike added sugars, naturally occurring sugars are naturally occurring in foods like the fructose in your apple or the lactose in your milk.2 They weren’t added in – they exist on their own without any human intervention.
Why Is Added Sugar a Problem?
What makes added sugars such a big deal? There are a few reasons why added sugars pose such a huge health risk.
Quantity and Quality
Yes, there’s sugar in both your apple and your soda. But the difference is the type of sugar found in each item. For starters, soda has way more sugar than your apple. There is around 19g of sugar in one apple versus 39g of sugar in one 12-ounce can of soda.
The quality of that food item also matters. An apple has fiber, protein, vitamin C, antioxidants, many other important nutrients. On the other hand, a can of soda offers zero nutritional value.4
Having other nutrients in your food slows down the rate at which your body absorbs and processes sugar. With zero fiber or other nutrients, all that sugar in your can of soda goes immediately into your bloodstream, possibly resulting in a blood sugar spike.4
While glucose is your body’s preferred energy source, the body only needs so much glucose to function. This is what often makes added sugars so dangerous because foods high in sugar may possibly overload your body with too much glucose while offering very few nutrients to regulate that sugar intake.5
Over time, this can lead to insulin resistance, elevated blood sugar, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and other issues. Plus, when consumed consistently in large quantities, it can raise your risk for health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, or other metabolic concerns.5
Because high-added sugar foods are mostly sugar and have very little nutritional value, this can leave your body feeling unsatisfied.
Plus, the more high-sugar foods you eat, the more your body craves sugar. This is because when we eat sugar the brain releases feel-good hormones called dopamine and serotonin.3 For our hunter/gatherer ancestors, this sweet taste was an important indicator of safe, high-nutrient foods like berries. 3 But in today’s sugar-filled world, it poses more of a potential problem.
High-sugar diets can create a cycle of unhealthy eating. You eat high-sugar foods because you’re hungry, and craving those feel-good emotions. But after the sugar wears off, the feel-good emotions disappear, resulting in you reaching for more high-sugar foods – causing the cycle to continue.6
Breaking free of this cycle means swapping out your high-sugar foods for more nutritious options. But this leads us to another danger of added sugars: they’re not always as easy to avoid as you might think.
Added Sugars are Everywhere
It’s easy to spot the obvious offenders like high-sugar sodas or baked goods. But added sugars hide in foods you wouldn’t always expect. So you might not even realize how much sugar you’re consuming.
Even foods you consider healthy contain large amounts of added sugars, making them no better than your standard junk food. Some sneaky offenders include trail mixes, granola bars, salad dressings, condiments, oatmeal, cereal, breakfast bars, bread, and yogurt, just to name a few.
And all that added sugar can add up pretty quickly. Let’s say you:
- Start your morning with a bowl of cereal
- Then eat a strawberry yogurt with added sugar for your snack
- During your mid-day workout, you enjoy a sports drink
- Then you have a burger with ketchup for dinner along with a can of soda
- And you top it all off with a piece of chocolate cake for dessert
Let’s count up those sugar calories:
In total, that’s 576 calories from added sugar. And a lot of that sugar came from foods you might not have initially considered unhealthy, like your yogurt, beverages, condiments, or breakfast foods.
Added Sugar Consumption: Then and Now
We didn’t always have this sugar overload problem! Back in the 1800s and early 1900s, the average American adult only consumed about 15 grams of sugar per day.8 Yet today, the average American consumes over 70 grams of sugar daily.3 That’s over five times the amount of sugar!
Our diets today are much different than they were back then. As a result, added sugar is much more prevalent than it once was. And, unfortunately, we’re feeling the effects. Since 1970, diabetes has more than tripled. And almost one-third of all U.S. adults suffer from nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, a disease that wasn’t all that common less than 30 years ago.5
Here are a few causes for this sugar craze:
- The discovery of high fructose corn syrup in the 1960s made sugar cheap and easy to add to almost any food item3
- The low-fat push of the 1970s encouraged food manufacturers to create low-fat but high-sugar food options5
- The abundance of ultra processed and pre-packaged foods which are often high in added sugars
- The popularity of sugar-sweetened beverages like soda
- A rise in sedentary lifestyles and larger portion sizes5
In the past few decades, however, we’re starting to see more awareness around the dangers of added sugar and even some government regulations when it comes to sugar labeling and consumption.
With sugar appearing in more and more foods and the rise of troubling health concerns, the Food & Drug Administration, for example, revised the Nutrition Facts label in 2016 to include “Added Sugars”. Now you can spot on the back label how much of the total sugar in your foods is added versus naturally occurring.9
Yet, this kind of intervention does very little to solve our sugar addiction. High-added sugar foods are still a major health concern. But the responsibility for avoiding them falls primarily on the individual.
How to Reduce Added Sugar
According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, most adult Americans should keep their intake of added sugars to less than 10% of your total daily calories. For a 2,000-calorie diet, that would be no more than 200 calories that come from added sugars.10
That’s not a lot of sugar! Here are some ways you can help reduce your sugar intake to stay below that recommended amount:
- Read the back label: Before you drop a food or beverage item in your shopping cart, check the back label and look at the “total” and “added sugars”. One gram of sugar equates to around 4 calories.3 This quick math can help you spot high-sugar food items (especially items you didn’t expect to have much or any sugar!).
- Skip sugar-sweetened beverages: The average can of soda contains around 156 calories from sugar. That’s almost your recommended daily limit of sugar in just one can! By replacing your soda with OLIPOP, you can reduce your added sugar intake in a delicious way.
- Swap for healthier options: Skip the high-sugar food items and opt for healthier, lower sugar alternatives. Like plain Greek yogurt instead of flavored, oats instead of pre-made oatmeal, fruit instead of fruit juices, or OLIPOP instead of sugary soda.
- Cut portions in half: There’s no need to go cold turkey! If you find reducing your sugar intake too difficult try cutting your portion size of that sugary drink or food item in half. For example, instead of two spoonfuls of sugar in your coffee, try putting in one. That way you still enjoy the foods you love, while reducing your sugar intake.
- Make more meals at home: Frozen food items and other packaged products may have crazy added sugar levels. You can avoid this by making your frozen favorites at home.11 Plus, they’ll also taste so much better when you do!
Looking for more tips to limit your sugar intake? Head to our blog 5 Tips to Reduce Your Intake of Added Sugar for even more suggestions!
Added Sugar Takeaways
Sugar is a big problem in the standard American diet. But there are ways you can reduce your dependency on sugar and replace those sugar-filled items with healthier options instead, like choosing OLIPOP as your soda-of-choice! Learn more about starting a no-added-sugar diet, tips for cutting back your sugar intake, and more on our Daily Digest blog.
- Harvard Health. (2022, January 6). The sweet danger of sugar. https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/the-sweet-danger-of-sugar
- The American Heart Association. (2021, November 2). Added Sugars. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/added-sugars
- Heggie, J. (2021, May 3). Life is Sweet: The Sugar Story. Science. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/partner-content-the-sugar-story
- The American Heart Association. (2022, June 2). How much sugar is too much? https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/how-much-sugar-is-too-much
- University of California San Francisco. (2020, December 17). Sugar’s Sick Secrets. UCSF Magazine. Retrieved June 30, 2022, from https://magazine.ucsf.edu/sugars-sick-secrets
- How Much Is Too Much? SugarScience. University of California San Francisco. (2018, December 8). https://sugarscience.ucsf.edu/the-growing-concern-of-overconsumption.html#.YO7gHejYqbi
- U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2016, March).Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015–2020 (8th Edition). https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-10/DGA_Cut-Down-On-Added-Sugars.pdf
- Harvard Health. (2011, April 26). Is Fructose Bad For You? https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/is-fructose-bad-for-you-201104262425
- American Heart Association. (2020, February 3). What’s the Difference Between Sugar Free and No Added Sugar? https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/difference-between-sugar-free-and-no-added-sugar
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. Available at DietaryGuidelines.gov
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, January 13).Know Your Limits for Added Sugars. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/healthy_eating/sugar.html
What does added sugar mean on a nutrition label? ›
Added sugars include sugars that are added during the processing of foods (such as sucrose or dextrose), foods packaged as sweeteners (such as table sugar), sugars from syrups and honey, and sugars from concentrated fruit or vegetable juices.What is the difference between sugar and added sugar on nutrition label? ›
Naturally occurring sugars are found naturally in foods such as fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose). Added sugars include any sugars or caloric sweeteners that are added to foods or beverages during processing or preparation (such as putting sugar in your coffee or adding sugar to your cereal).How can you recognize an added sugar on a food label? ›
To identify added sugars, look at the ingredients list. Some major clues that an ingredient is an added sugar include: it has syrup (examples: corn syrup, rice syrup) the word ends in “ose” (examples: fructose, sucrose, maltose, dextrose)Should I only worry about added sugar? ›
"We have no nutritional need for added sugars," says Sessions. "This doesn't mean you can't enjoy foods containing added sugars from time to time, but the vast majority of your nutrition should be based on wholesome foods that contain natural sugars along with other important nutrients and vitamins."Should I avoid all sugar or just added sugar? ›
Your body doesn't need to get any carbohydrate from added sugar. That's why the Healthy Eating Pyramid says sugary drinks and sweets should be used sparingly, if at all, and the Healthy Eating Plate does not include foods with added sugars.Is added sugar worse than sugar? ›
Foods containing natural sugars offer nutrients that keep your body healthy, provide fast yet stable energy, and keep your metabolism stable. Fruits, for instance, offer essential nutrients such as potassium, vitamin C and folate. Added sugars, on the other hand, are harmful in large quantities.Is added sugar worse than carbs? ›
Refined sugars are digested faster than complex carbs, and are implicated in weight gain and metabolic diseases.How much added sugar is okay? ›
Americans should limit their added sugars
Americans 2 years and older keep their intake of added sugars to less than 10% of their total daily calories. For example, in a 2,000 calorie diet, no more than 200 calories should come from added sugars (about 12 teaspoons).
Sugar-free are considered to be those containing less than 0.5 g of sugar per 100 ml or 100 g. On the other hand, “no added sugar” means that no sugar has been added to the product as an ingredient. So, it contains only naturally occurring sugar.What ingredients indicate added sugar? ›
Different names for added sugars
- Cane juice and cane syrup.
- Corn sweetener and high-fructose corn syrup.
- Fruit juice concentrate and nectar.
- Maple syrup.
Are total sugars and added sugar the same? ›
Added sugars are sugars introduced to products or foods to add flavor or extend shelf life. Total sugars include added sugars as well as naturally occurring sugars like those found in fruits. When reducing sugar intake, focus more on the added sugar label than the total sugar label.Is honey considered an added sugar? ›
Is honey a natural or added sugar? Honey is a naturally occurring sugar and is also considered an added sugar, which can be confusing. Although pure honey is made by nature and no sugars are added during its production, consuming pure honey contributes added sugars to the diet.Can I avoid added sugar? ›
There are a lot of ways to limit or avoid added sugar in your diet. Choose heart-healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains for meals and snacks. Cut out candy, baked goods, and dairy desserts. Opt for water over sugary drinks.What are three foods that are high in added sugars? ›
The major sources of added sugars are sugary beverages (regular soft drinks, sweetened tea and coffee, energy drinks and fruit drinks), candy, desserts and sweet snacks (cakes, cookies, pies).Does fruit count as added sugar? ›
Sugar found naturally in milk, fruit and vegetables does not count as free sugars. We do not need to cut down on these sugars, but remember that they are included in the "total sugar" figure found on food labels.What is the healthiest form of sugar? ›
Talking about sugar being good for health, then natural sugar or stevia is the best. They have many health benefits to offer apart from weight loss. It has all the essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that are essential for your body. While stevia is also known to be the best sugar for weight loss.What is the healthiest sugar to use? ›
- Stevia. Stevia is a very popular low calorie sweetener. ...
- Erythritol. Erythritol is another low calorie sweetener. ...
- Xylitol. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol with a sweetness similar to that of sugar. ...
- Yacon syrup. Yacon syrup is another unique sweetener. ...
- Monk fruit sweetener.
Cutting back on added sugar is important, as excessive consumption is linked to an increased risk of certain health conditions, including fatty liver, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease ( 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 , 6 ).What is the unhealthiest sugar substitute? ›
The worst sweeteners include artificial sweeteners like sucralose, saccharin, and aspartame, high fructose corn syrup, agave, and brown rice syrup. It's best to avoid these sweeteners, if possible. Let's further discuss some natural and artificial sweeteners, ranked.What is the unhealthiest sugar? ›
Fructose in processed foods may be the worst for health
Your body converts fructose to glucose in the liver to use it for energy. Excess fructose from processed foods and beverages places a burden on your liver, which may lead to a series of metabolic problems ( 16 ).
Are added sugars OK on keto? ›
If you're on keto, then you know sugar is a no-go—the ultra-restrictive diet calls for slashing your daily carb intake to under 50 net grams a day. If you're looking for some sweetness to add to coffees or treats, you'll need to go with a sugar alternative that's low-carb and keto-friendly.Can you subtract added sugar from carbs? ›
On a nutrition food label, subtract the fiber from the total carbohydrate amount. When you read food labels, the grams of sugar are already included in the total carbohydrate amount, so you do not need to count this sugar amount separately.Do all carbs turn into sugar? ›
All carbohydrate is converted into glucose. In someone without diabetes, the body produces insulin automatically to deal with the glucose that enters the blood from the carbohydrate-containing food that we eat and drink.Is 25 grams of added sugar a lot? ›
To keep all of this in perspective, it's helpful to remember the American Heart Association's recommendations for sugar intake. Men should consume no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams or 150 calories) of added sugar per day. For women, the number is lower: 6 teaspoons (25 grams or 100 calories) per day.What sugar is not added sugar? ›
Added sugars are sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared. Naturally occurring sugars such as those in fruit or milk are not added sugars.How much added sugar should I have daily? ›
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting calories from added sugars to no more than 10% each day. That's 200 calories, or about 12 teaspoons, for a 2,000 calorie diet.What does the food label mean when it says no added sugar? ›
No sugar or ingredient containing sugar was added during processing or packaging. (Also: without added sugar or no sugar added.)What are some hidden names for sugar to look out for on nutrition labels? ›
- corn sweetener.
- ethyl maltol.
- corn syrup.
- fruit juice concentrates.
- high-fructose corn syrup.
of Health and Human Services, added sugars show up on food and drink labels under the following names: Anhydrous dextrose, brown sugar, cane crystals, cane sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, crystal dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fructose sweetener, fruit juice concentrates, high-fructose corn ...What are some names for added sugar? ›
But added sugars are four of the seven main ingredients, which is not so sweet for your health. Added sugars are sneaky! They go by many names (aliases), such as: agave, corn sweetener, dextrose, juice concentrate, glucose, honey, maltodextrin, maltose, molasses, sucrose and anything with the words sugar or syrup.
What are five common names for added sugar? ›
- barley malt.
- high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and other syrups.
Fructose is sweeter than glucose, so it's most often used as an added sugar in processed foods, whether in the form of high-fructose corn syrup or just plain old sugar. Scientists call plain old sugar sucrose, and it's a 50-50 mix of fructose and glucose.Does added sugar mean additional sugar? ›
Added sugars include sugars that are added during the processing of foods (such as sucrose or dextrose), foods packaged as sweeteners (such as table sugar), sugars from syrups and honey, and sugars from concentrated fruit or vegetable juices.Is maple syrup an added sugar? ›
While maple syrup is a natural sweetener, it's not a naturally occurring sugar found in food. Therefore, it falls under the category of added sugars.Is 2 tablespoons of honey a day too much? ›
Honey is still a form of sugar and intake should be moderate. The American Heart Association recommends that women get no more than 100 calories a day from added sugars; men no more than 150 calories a day. This is a little over two tablespoons for women and three tablespoons for men.Is maple syrup better than sugar? ›
Maple syrup is a healthier alternative to sugar and has many benefits. It's less processed than regular table sugars and therefore contains more nutrients like vitamins, minerals & antioxidants which help improve your health.Does no added sugar mean no sugar? ›
According to the FDA, when manufacturers claim a food has “no added sugars,” it cannot be processed with any sugar or sugar-containing ingredients, though it can have sugar alcohol or artificial sweeteners. Products without added sugar can contain naturally occurring sugar.What is the difference between added sugar and sugar alcohol? ›
The bottom line
Sugar and sugar alcohols are sweet-tasting carbs with slightly different chemical structures. Sugar alcohols are generally less sweet and contain fewer calories than sugars. They also affect blood sugar levels less significantly, making them a suitable alternative for people with diabetes.
Solid fats and added sugars add calories to the food but few or no nutrients. For this reason, the calories from solid fats and added sugars in a food are often called empty calories.What is the meaning of added sugar? ›
Added sugars are sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared. Naturally occurring sugars such as those in fruit or milk are not added sugars.
Is 20g of added sugar a day OK? ›
Adults should have no more than 30g of free sugars a day, (roughly equivalent to 7 sugar cubes). Children aged 7 to 10 should have no more than 24g of free sugars a day (6 sugar cubes). Children aged 4 to 6 should have no more than 19g of free sugars a day (5 sugar cubes).What foods are high in added sugar? ›
The major sources of added sugars are sugary beverages (regular soft drinks, sweetened tea and coffee, energy drinks and fruit drinks), candy, desserts and sweet snacks (cakes, cookies, pies).Does added sugar include sugar alcohol? ›
Sugar alcohols may be found in products that are labeled “sugar-free” or “no sugar added.” This can include sugar-free candies, chocolate, and energy bars. But don't be fooled – sugar alcohols are still a form of carbohydrate, and they still affect your blood sugar levels, if not as dramatically.Do added sugars count as carbs? ›
One of the three types of carbohydrates in food is sugar. As of January 2021, labels must include added sugar to help you know the difference between sugar that occurs naturally in the food (like yogurt or fruit) and sugar that was added during processing (like in cookies, candy and soda).
On a nutrition food label, subtract the fiber from the total carbohydrate amount. When you read food labels, the grams of sugar are already included in the total carbohydrate amount, so you do not need to count this sugar amount separately.Is fruit sugar the same as added sugar? ›
Sugar in fruit and added sugar are not the same thing, says Lauri Wright, spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. But even for people without diabetes, sugar in fruit is a healthier option than sugar from other sources, according to nutritionist Wright.