Nutrition: Sugar vs. Added Sugar

Slice of chocolate cake

By Marlene Rafferty, RD, LDN

Marlene Rafferty is a registered dietitian at Nemours/Alfred I.
duPont Hospital for Children.

Sugar tends to be a hot topic in the world of nutrition. It’s important to realize sugar can be a natural part of the food we eat. For example, lactose in milk and fructose in fruit are considered natural sugars.

But sugar also implies added sources that tend to be in most of our packaged foods and beverages, with the key word here being “added.” One challenge with our current food label is there is no way to distinguish natural sugar from added sugar unless you review the ingredient list. It’s hard to believe, but there are more than 60 terms for added sugar that are approved for use by the FDA. Some common labels for added sugars (besides sugar) include honey, sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, cane juice, and glucose. Other labels for sugar you might see and not recognize include barley malt, maltose, and buttered syrup.

Where do most sources of added sugar come from in our diets?

Check your packaged food and drinks!

  • Regular soft drinks, teas, fruit punches, sports drinks, lemonades, or sweetened coffee drinks
  • Sweetened dairy products like chocolate milk or flavored yogurts
  • Breakfast cereals, instant flavored oatmeal, or pastries
  • Dessert items like baked goods, candy, or frozen sweets

What are the guidelines for amount of added sugar per day?

The American Heart Association recommends:

  • Kids: less than 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day or under 25 grams
  • Women: 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day or 25 grams
  • Men: 9 teaspoons of added sugar per day or 36 grams

Roughly 1 teaspoon equals 4 grams of sugar

What are some ways to limit added sugars?

  • Hydrate with water. Adding slices of fresh fruit or frozen fruit can flavor water without adding sugar.
  • Need some fizzy bubbles? Try a seltzer water with fruit slices
  • Think about dessert items like cookies, cake, pie, and ice cream as special treats. Work on decreasing frequency to a few times per week instead of daily
  • Choose unsweetened products like plain yogurt and milk, unsweetened applesauce, or canned fruit packed in water.

Want to read more? Check out these great articles from our partner Nemours Children's Health System.