Woman reads the nutrition facts label on a package in a grocery store.
Fitness & Nutrition

Are You Eating More Sugar Than You Think?

By on 01/09/2019

Sugar. It’s everywhere. You’ll not only find sugar in places you would expect – like cookies and candy – but it’s hiding in places you might not think of, like yogurt, ketchup, bread and processed foods that don’t even taste sweet.  And those drinks that keep you going all day long? Chances are a majority of your daily sugar intake is coming from them.

You probably already know that eating too much sugar isn’t good for you. Sugar contributes excess calories to your diet with no nutritional value. It causes inflammation in the body and may contribute to weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome and tooth decay, as well as other health problems. From your head to your toes, sugar affects just about every organ in your body and everything in between.

The 2015-2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend adults limit the amount of added sugar they consume each day to 10% of daily calories. For a 2,000 calorie diet, that equals about 12 teaspoons of sugar. The World Health Organization suggests only 5% of calories come from added sugar each day, or 6 teaspoons of sugar. The American Heart Association also recommends that kids ages 2 to 18 consume no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar a day. Added sugar, as the name implies, is sugar added to food. It does not include sugar naturally found in foods like fruit.

Many Americans don’t come close to meeting these health guidelines. In fact, the average American adult consumes about 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day. Over 70% of American adults get more than 10% of their calories from sugar, according to a study in JAMA Internal Medicine, which also linked higher levels of sugar consumption with an increased risk of death from heart disease.

The good news is that Americans have reduced their intake of sweeteners by 15% since consumption peaked in 1999, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This is due in part to a decrease in soda consumption. Soda taxes, enacted in some cities in the U.S., have helped to lower the amount of sugar-sweetened beverages consumed, especially by lower income residents.

To reduce the amount of added sugar in your diet, start by limiting the number of sugar-sweetened drinks and sweet treats you consume. You should also check food labels. There are over 60 names for sugar, from corn syrup, agave nectar and honey to fructose, dextrose and maltose, so it can be difficult to spot added sugar just by reading the ingredient list. But new food labels now include the amount of added sugar in addition to total sugar. Different brands of the same foods often have different amounts of added sugar so choose those with the least amount of added sugar. Better yet, eat whole foods instead of processed foods whenever possible and you won’t have to worry about how much sugar is hiding in your food.

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Date Last Reviewed: October 30, 2018

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Nora Minno, RD, CDN

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Perspectives highlights the expertise and services provided by the physicians, specialists, nurses and other healthcare providers at Einstein Healthcare Network. Through this blog, we share information about new treatments and technologies, top-tier clinical teams and the day-to-day interactions that reinforce our commitment to delivering quality care with compassion. Here, you will also find practical advice for championing your health and wellness. The Einstein Healthcare Network "Terms of Use" apply to all content on this blog.