Added Sugar: What You Need To Know

Sugar is a simple carbohydrate that provides calories for your body to use as energy. There are two main types of sugar.

Natural sugar is found in whole, unprocessed foods. These include fruit, vegetables, dairy, and some grains. Fructose is a natural sugar found in fruit. Lactose is a natural sugar found in animal dairy products.

Added sugar is found in processed foods and drinks. It also includes sugar you add to foods at home and cook with. Added sugar provides little to no nutritional value. It is used for different reasons, such as:

  • to keep baked goods fresh longer
  • to keep jellies and jams from spoiling
  • to help fermentation in breads and alcohol
  • to improve the flavor, color, or texture of foods and drinks.

In the United States, the average man consumes 335 calories (about 21 teaspoons) of added sugar each day. The average woman consumes 239 calories (about 15 teaspoons) of added sugar each day.

The main sources of added sugar include:

  • candy
  • cakes
  • cookies
  • pies and cobblers
  • sweet rolls, pastries, and doughnuts
  • dairy desserts, such as ice cream and yogurt
  • sugar sweetened drinks, such as soft drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, and juice drinks.

Path to improved health

If you eat or drink too much added sugar, it can lead to health problems. These include:

  • tooth decay
  • obesity
  • type 2diabetes
  • heartdisease
  • high triglyceride levels
  • increased low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”)cholesterol levels
  • decreased high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or “good”)cholesterol levels.

People who fill up on foods and drinks that contain added sugar may be less likely to eat and drink healthy options. Milk provides calcium, protein, and vitamins that help your body function well. Sugary drinks only provide a lot of calories with little to no nutritional value.

Your body needs a certain amount of calories each day for energy. Think of this as your daily calorie goal. Your goal depends on your age, height, weight, and level of activity. Most of the calories you eat and drink should provide nutrients. Since added sugars don’t have much nutritional value, they are called “empty calories.” You may gain weight if you eat or drink too many empty calories. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website lists recommended daily limits for empty calories.

Things to consider

There are a lot of ways to limit or avoid added sugar in your diet.

  • Choose heart-healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains for meals and snacks.
  • Cut out candy, baked goods, and dairy desserts.
  • Skip sugary drinks and choose water instead. A 12-ounce can of regular (non-diet) soda contains 8 or more teaspoons of sugar and about 130 calories.
  • Cut out processed foods. These are high in added sugar, sodium, and
  • Look for recipes that use less sugar when you are cooking or baking.

It is important to read the nutrition facts label when purchasing food. These labels can be confusing. Check to see how much sugar is in a product. One gram of sugar equals 4 calories and 4 grams equals 1 teaspoon of sugar. So if a label says 40 grams of sugar, then you’re consuming 160 calories and 10 teaspoons of sugar per serving.

The nutrition facts label also tells you the ingredients. Sugar can have many names. Look for the following:

  • agave syrup
  • brown sugar
  • cane juice and cane syrup
  • confectioners’ sugar
  • corn sweetener and corn syrup
  • dextrose
  • fructose
  • fruit juice concentrates
  • glucose
  • granulated white sugar
  • high-fructose corn syrup
  • honey
  • invert sugar
  • lactose
  • maltose
  • malt syrup
  • molasses
  • raw sugar
  • sucrose
  • syrup.

The American Academy of Family Physicians supports policy to tax sugar sweetened beverages. The purpose is to reduce the amount of drinks that people consume. This helps to lower obesity and improve health.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • How many calories should I eat in a day?
  • How much added sugar is too much?


American Academy of Family Physicians, Sugar Sweetened Beverages Policy

U.S. Department of Agriculture,