How Much Sugar is in Your Food?

A bowl of oatmeal with brown sugar, cranberries and mixed nuts as the optional toppings.

A non fat strawberry Greek yogurt cup

A bowl of fruit.

A cinnamon roll.

This is what I was served for breakfast on an early morning flight I took a couple of months ago. If you are sitting there thinking, “Yeah?? Okay, I know the cinnamon roll is bad, but everything else is fairly healthy” then please keep reading!

This meal contained 14 TEASPOONS of ADDED sugar, not counting the natural sugar already in the fruit and cranberries. The World Health Organization recommends an adult to have 6 teaspoons of added sugar a day. And this was just my breakfast!!! I still had to get through at least two snacks, lunch and dinner. WTF?! How was I going to do that??

If there is one thing I wish the FDA would do, it would be to require food manufacturers to list, on their nutrition labels, how much of the total sugar in a food or drink is naturally occurring within the food itself, and how much is added sugar.

Food companies have done an excellent job hiding sugar in everything we’re eating. So now, more than ever, it’s important that we know how to read and decipher the nutrition and ingredient labels on all of our food so that we know exactly how much sugar, and in what form, we’re putting into our bodies.

How to Read Food Labels

When determining how much sugar is in a packaged food, there are 3 things you need to do:

  1. Refer to the nutrition facts panel
    • take note of the serving size
    • take note of the grams of sugar PER SERVING
  2. Do some math
    • 4g of sugar = 1 tsp sugar
    • take the grams of sugar in the food and divide by 4. This gives you how many teaspoons of sugar you are eating PER SERVING
    • think to yourself, “Does this seem like a rather large amount of sugar for this food to naturally have?”
  3. Refer to the ingredients listed on the package
    • take note of the different sugars listed. What form are they in? Are they naturally occurring in whole foods?

After you’ve done this, you’re better educated to make a decision on whether this food is worth buying/eating or not.

Let’s look at two different examples:

High Pulp Orange Juice

 

Serving size = 8 fl. oz. (basically a 1 cup measure full of OJ)

Sugar = 21g

21g/4 = 5.25 teaspoons of sugar

  • Does this seems like a lot? Well considering fruit has a lot of naturally occurring sugar, not really since 1 orange alone contains about 9g of sugar, or 2.25 teaspoons of sugar, and it will take a lot more than 1 orange to squeeze out enough juice to make 1 cup. BUT, we will still want to look at the ingredient list.

Ingredient list = 100% florida oranges. No mention of sugar, orange juice concentrate, fruit juice, or corn syrup.

Overall: This is a legit orange juice made out of only oranges. However, something to note… Be conscious of how much you’re drinking. Typically when people drink juice, they’re having more than 1 cup. Juice can increase your daily sugar consumption greatly, and even too much of a good thing isn’t always good for you.

 

 

Cinnamon, Raisin Low Fat Granola

 

Serving size = 1/2 cup

Sugar = 17g

17g/4 = 4.25 teaspoons of sugar.

  • Does this seem like a lot? It says on the package that it’s cinnamon, raisin and almond flavor. Raisins contain a decent amount of naturally occurring sugar, but is that enough to make up 4.25 teaspoons worth in 1/2 a cup?

Ingredient list = whole grain rolled oats, whole grain filled wheat, sugar, raisins (raisins, glycerin, sunflower oil), crisp rice (rice flour, sugar, whey [milk], salt, barely malt, wheat flour, dextrose), corn syrup, almonds, whole oat flour, molasses, canola oil, cinnamon, salt, corn starch, soy lecithin, natural flavors.

There are 4 different types of sugars listed: Sugar, dextrose, corn syrup and molasses. These are not naturally occurring sugars, so aside from the naturally occurring sugars in the oats, wheat, raisins, rice, almonds and cinnamon, you can chalk the rest up to sugar that’s been added… Processed sugar.

Overall: I’d find a healthier granola, maybe an oat muesli with some dried fruit and nuts mixed in.

 

 

The trickiest part of this whole thing is knowing the different names food companies use for sugar on their ingredient lists. There are almost 100 different names for sugar and sugar alcohols on the Food and Drug Administration food additive list.

Here’s a list of the most common ones that don’t have the word “sugar” already in them, therefore easier to overlook:

  • Agave (or Agave Nectar/Syrup)
  • Barley Malt
  • Brown Rice Syrup
  • Cane Juice (Crystals)
  • Caramel
  • Carob Syrup
  • Corn Syrup (Solids/High-Fructose)
  • Dextrin
  • Dextrose
  • Diastatic Malt
  • Ethyl Maltol
  • Evaporated Cane Juice
  • Florida Crystals
  • Fructose
  • Fruit Juice (Concentrate)
  • Galactose
  • Glucose (Solids)
  • Golden Syrup
  • Honey
  • Lactose
  • Malt Syrup
  • Maltodextrin
  • Maltose
  • Maple Syrup
  • Molasses
  • Refiner’s Syrup
  • Rice Syrup
  • Sorghum Syrup
  • Sucanat
  • Sucrose

The Bottom Line

If you’re not sure what an ingredient is, look it up. Most of us have smart phones with Google at our fingertips, so spend some time looking ingredients up while you’re grocery shopping. Also, keep in mind that some of these ingredients, like maple syrup, honey and lactose, are natural sources of sugar. So if you have to get a product with sugar added, these are the best ones to look for.

And if you don’t remember anything from this post, just remember this:

4g of sugar = 1 tsp sugar

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