Millennial Nutrition

What Are Added Sugars?

12 July, 2018

What Are Added Sugars?

One of the best habits you can get into when grocery shopping is reviewing nutrition facts panels and ingredients. Even if you don’t feel confident knowing how much sugar is too much or which ingredients you should limit, picking up two options of the same food and comparing the nutrition of the two can help you make a healthier decision.

That’s what I did recently when I was trying to select the best dairy-free yogurt option for my daughter. I was SHOCKED how much sugar most flavored yogurts had–some close to 20 grams! A portion of that is naturally occurring sugar, however, a majority of it is added for flavor.

So what is added sugar and how is it different from naturally occurring sugar? How much is too much? What foods contain added sugar? Continue reading as Millennial Nutrition intern Alexis Luna gives you the low-down on added sugars. Also, be sure to join me for a FREE 5-Day Sugar Detox program starting on Monday, July 16th! Sign up HERE and you will be added to a Facebook group where I will share more details.


Added sugars are sugars that just that–they are added to a food when they are processed or prepared. You find them in foods like cakes, cookies, muffins, sweetened breakfast cereals, candy, and sugar-sweetened beverages such as juices and soft drinks. Naturally occurring sugars, such as those in fruit or milk, are not added sugars. Naturally occuring sugars aren’t necessarily better for you than added sugars, but keeping the amount of added sugars consumed in check can help you better manage your overall sugar intake.

Should I be Concerned?

Sugar is an important part of your diet. Our brains survive on sugar (also known as glucose), however most people overdo their sugar consumption in part due to the excessive amounts of added sugars to foods (see below). A sweet treat here and there in addition to a healthy and balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins isn’t going to hurt you. The problem occurs when too much is consumed over a long period of time. Eating too many foods with added sugars is linked to poor nutrition, weight gain (from the extra calories), increased risk of heart disease, and tooth decay.

Added Sugar Recommendations

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that added sugars make up no more than 10 percent of your daily calories. For a 2,000-calorie diet, that means no more than 200 calories (or 50 grams) a day should come from added sugars.

The American Heart Association has a bit stricter limit for added sugars–no more than 100 calories per day for most women and no more than 150 calories per day for most men. That’s about 25 grams (or 6 teaspoons) a day of sugar for women and 36 grams (or 9 teaspoons) for men.

Ready to be shocked? The average adults consumes closer to 66 grams of added sugar each day. And that’s not taking into considering the naturally occuring sugars they get in their diets!

Playing Detective with the Nutrition Facts Label

When looking at nutrition facts panels of foods, keep in mind that:

  • 4 grams of sugar equals 1 teaspoon
  • There are 4 calories per 1 gram of sugar

Pretend you’re at the store looking at this seemly healthy strawberry yogurt (I mean, it says it’s free of dairy, gluten, and GMOs.). You check out the nutrition facts on the back and see that it has 18 grams of sugar.

  • Multiply 18 grams by 4 = 72 calories from sugar
  • Divide 18 grams by 4 = 4.5 teaspoons

Still think it’s a healthy option? I usually recommend staying below 10 grams of sugar for a yogurt, so at the very least you could have half of the yogurt as a snack.

It’s also important to note that added sugar has many names depending on where it came from and how it’s made. Check for ingredients ending in “ose”–that’s the chemical name for many types of sugars, such as fructose, maltose, and dextrose. Here is a list of common types of sugars:

  • Cane juice and cane syrup
  • Corn sweeteners and high-fructose corn syrup
  • Fruit juice concentrates and nectars
  • Honey
  • Malt syrup
  • Molasses

Look out for sugars in the ingredients list as they are placed in descending order. In other words, the higher the sugar is on the list, the more sugar the food item contains.

Hate to break it to you but despite what you’ve heard, there is no nutritional value based on the type of sugar found in a food (honey, brown sugar, etc.), at the end of the day it’s still full of calories!

Ways to cut Back on Added Sugars

  1. Drink water instead! I have found that by drinking more water, I rely less on soda and juice to satisfy my thirst. Carrying around a reusable water bottle helps, too. To make water more fun, infuse it with fruit and herbs. (A squeeze of lemon and fresh, crushed up mint leaves are my favorite! – Gillean)
  2. If you’re going to drink juice, make it 100% so at least you’re getting vitamins and minerals. Better yet, eat the whole fruit!
  3. Choose breakfast cereals with less added sugar, aim for 5 grams or less. I like making my own oatmeal with a tiny bit of maple syrup and fresh berries for more fiber and natural sweetness.  
  4. Buy plain yogurt and add fruit Buy canned fruit packed in water or juice and not syrup.
  5. When making smoothies, add real fruit instead of sugar.
  6. When a recipe calls for sugar, try applesauce, dates, or stevia.

Are you ready to reduce the amount of added sugar you eat? Remember, to join my FREE 5-Day Sugar Detox program starting on Monday, July 16th. Sign up HERE!


Alexis Luna, BS, NDTR loves food and helping others find simple ways to improve their overall health. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from Arizona State University in 2017 and currently working as a Nutrition and Dietetic Technician, Registered (NDTR) for the Maricopa County government Women, Infants, and, Children (WIC) nutritional support program in Phoenix, Arizona. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her friends and family, going to concerts, hanging out with her chihuahua, walking in nature, and cooking healthy meals. You can follow her on social media for nutrition tips and foodie pics on Twitter @luna_nutrition, Instagram @bluberrylec, and learn more about her upcoming side business as a personal chef nutritionist at