How to Reduce Your Added Sugar Intake

Learn how much added sugar is too much and which foods and ingredients should you watch out for.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
5-minute read
Episode #118

How to Reduce Your Added Sugar Intake

The next step is to figure out where all that added sugar is coming from.   According to the American Cancer Society, almost half of the sugar in the typical diet comes from sweetened beverages. That would include soda and other soft drinks, sweetened teas and juice drinks, and sport drinks like Gatorade (although it wouldn’t include artificially sweetened beverages).

Another quarter of the added sugar in the typical diet comes from sweet treats like candy, cookies, cakes, ice cream, and sweetened breakfast cereal. And the remaining 25% or so of the sugar in our diet comes from the sugar that we use in cooking, add at the table, or stir into our coffee, plus all the sugar that’s hidden in processed and packaged foods like crackers, salad dressings, spaghetti sauce, and just about everything else.

How to Spot Added Sugar in Packaged Foods

Trading that afternoon cola for an unsweetened iced tea could cut 50 grams of added sugar out of your diet in a single swipe!

To see how much sugar is in packaged foods and beverages, take a look at the Nutrition Facts label, which tells you how many grams of sugar is in each serving. For most foods, all of the sugar on the label is “added sugar.” Quick and Dirty Tip: Be sure to check how many servings are in the package. Often a package that seems like a single serving actually contains two or three servings. If you eat or drink the whole thing, you’d need to multiply the grams of sugar per serving by the number of servings you consume.

Sometimes, however, the sugar listed on the Nutrition Facts label is a combination of added sugar and natural sugar from fruit or milk—and that can be a little trickier to calculate.   You may have to do a little sleuthing around. For example, an 8-ounce carton of low-fat milk contains 12 grams of sugar. That’s all naturally occurring milk sugar (or lactose) and you wouldn’t have to count that toward your added sugar limit. An 8-ounce container of chocolate milk, on the other hand, contains 30 grams of sugar. If 12 grams of that are accounted for by lactose, you can estimate that the remaining 18 grams is added sugar.

Likewise, you can compare a jar of unsweetened applesauce with a jar of sweetened applesauce to see how much of the sugar is added and how much is natural sugar from the apples. Unless a product contains a substantial amount of whole fruit or dairy, however, I’d count all of the sugar in a packaged food as added sugar.

How Much Sugar Are You Eating?

Why not spend a couple of days tracking your added sugar intake? Check the labels of all packaged foods that you eat. Don’t worry about the naturally occurring sugar in fresh fruit or unsweetened dairy products but make sure to count any sugar that you put in your coffee or honey that you drizzle over your oatmeal. If you eat out, you can often get detailed nutrition information on restaurant websites or on websites like nutritiondata.com.

If you’re taking in more sugar than you mean to—or want to—take a look at where the sugar in your diet comes from and you might see some obvious ways to cut back. For example, just trading that afternoon cola for an unsweetened iced tea could cut 50 grams of added sugar out of your diet in a single swipe! (And for a reminder of why you might want to, see my article, “How Sugar Affects Your Body”)

I hope that clears up some of the confusion about what counts as an added sugar and how to figure out how much sugar is in processed foods. If you decide to track your added sugar intake—or to get serious about cutting back, let me know how it’s going.

Feel free to post your comments on the show’s webpage at nutritiondiva.quickanddirtytips.com or on the Nutrition Diva Facebook Page

Have a great week and remember to eat something good for me!



Sugar image courtesy of Shutterstock


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.