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November 11, 2012 at 4:16 PMComments: 6 Faves: 1

Is Your Diet Too Sweet?

By Jessica Corwin MPH RDN More Blogs by This Author

Did you know that a simple six-ounce reduced fat fruit flavored yogurt may contain up to 30 grams of sugar? With 12 grams typically come from the milk sugar, the other 21 grams or 5 teaspoons are added. Yes, you read that correctly, 5 teaspoons and unless real fruit is listed as an ingredient, you may simply be consuming spoonful after spoonful of white sugar or high fructose corn syrup with your seemingly healthful snack.

Perhaps you are enjoying a bit of crunch with your morning yogurt to create a more balanced breakfast. Let’s say you add a cup of Kashi® Go Lean Crunch, now you have just added another 13 grams or 3 teaspoons of additional sugar in the form of brown rice syrup, evaporated cane juice crystals, and honey. If you sip on a glass of juice as many Americans do, you can tally up another 25 grams or 6 teaspoons of added sugars (unless it is 100% then at least it is natural fruit sugars).

Now this simple morning meal contains 17 teaspoons of sugars, 14 of which are added rather than natural milk or fruit sugars. Surprised?

How Much Is Too Much?

The American Heart Association recommends women consume a mere 6 teaspoons TOTAL of added sugars per day, roughly 100 calories worth. Men have a little more leeway as they tend to consume more calories in total, allowing for 9 teaspoons of added sugars. It is easy to see how many of us are overdoing it when it comes to sugar when you look back to our earlier example and see how quickly those added sugars add up. In fact, the average American consumes around 22 teaspoons of added sugar alone.

Surprisingly Sweet

Sugar is added to many foods that you already recognize as being extra sweet, such as soda, candy, baked goods, ice cream, sherbert, and sugary beverages. But as sugar is being added to an increasing variety of supermarket finds, it is more important than ever to pay attention to the foods and beverages being added to your shopping cart. Below are a few of the more surprising sources of added sugars.

  • Granola bars
  • Bread (especially flavored or cinnamon varieties)
  • Honey nut waffles
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Canned corn
  • Salad dressing
  • Marinades and sauces
  • Granola
  • Protein bars

Gosh, I could go on and on… but I won’t. Let’s talk sugar solutions instead.

Naturally Sweet

Rather than packing in the added sugars, which are void of nutrition and merely add empty calories to our diet, opt for fruit or simply take stock of how much sugar is already there before getting out the honey bear or sugar bowl to add more. With so much sugar already in our diet, the act of simply paying attention to the nutrition facts (4 grams of sugar equals 1 teaspoon of sugar) and the ingredient label (seek out added sugars such as corn sugar, molasses, syrup, agave, etc.) will place you in a position of power. Knowledge does equal power, right?  A good rule of thumb is to avoid packages which list sugars within the first few ingredients, though others may try to trick you by sprinkling multiple sources of sugars throughout the lengthy list (as did the cereal above). By reading the label you will be able to choose the option with the least added sugar, saving you allowing those empty calories to translate into unnecessary weight gain.

If you do find that something needs a little something sweet, try using fruit. A quarter-cup of dried fruit will add pizzazz to a snack of walnuts and almonds, or even to your morning oats or evening air-popped corn. And of course fresh sliced fruit will go a long way when it comes to adding flavor to a smoothie or evening treat of frozen Greek yogurt or a cup of cereal. Or if sugar is the only option, just keep the portion size and mind while aiming to stay below those 6-9 teaspoons for the entire day. Think 2 teaspoons morning, noon, and night, or one luxurious treat when the mood strikes.

What foods have shocked you with their sugar content? Have you ever stopped to pick up a 'healthy' or 'natural' product only to find that it is coated with added sweeteners? Or perhaps the opposite, with something such as Lara bars which only use naturally sweet dates to sugar-up their snacks.I would love to hear about your own examples! 

More from Health Coach Jessica Corwin MPH RDN Others Are Reading


  • I've been snacking on a MASSIVE bag of craisins at work over the past few months, I looked at the sugar content and was shocked. For every serving there is 26 grams of sugar! 26!!!!!! A serving size is only 40 grams! So only 14 out of 40 grams I am consuming is cranberry, the rest is sugar. Madness.

  • Personally, I was shocked at how much fake crap is in maple syrup. Obviously you have to expect that it's going to be sugary because, duh, it's syrup. But the typical store-brand, not-100%-maple syrups are loaded with disgusting amounts of HFCS and the like, and artificial flavorings to make up for the lack of maple flavor. So now I'm not only cutting down, but I'm switching to more natural sources like agave nectar or honey instead. (Side question - is there any way to get that maple flavor other than pure 100% maple syrup? Other than turning into a beaver and chewing down an entire maple tree?)

  • Dave, rather than opting for another imitator, nothing compares with 100% maple syrup. I'm all about the real deal. It may be more expensive (far less so if you purchase it in-season), but it will last a VERY long time if you use a reasonable amount each serving. Would this work for you?

  • Dayton, while dried fruit is already a concentrated source of sugar compared to fresh fruit, many manufactures add in even more sugar and oil to enhance the flavor. Now that you are already aware of this though, there are certainly options available that are void of these additives - just keep on doing what you are doing and read the ingredient list, on your dried fruit and more. Knowledge is power!

  • It is surprising how much sugar we consume in the prepared food we eat. I rarely if ever "add" sugar to something I am eating, (unless I'm making cookies) so I would have never guessed on average we consume 22 teaspoons a day - did you mean per day.

  • That's right, Nancy - 22 teaspoons on average each day. Amazing isn't it? And just like the sodium we consume, the majority comes from sugar already added to our food - not the sugar being added by us.

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