The Hunt for Hidden Sugar

Ready for a little experiment? Grab that jar of sugar, a measuring spoon, a plate and a can of regular soda. Then, dump one teaspoon of sugar onto the plate. Repeat this nine more times. Do you know what you have, besides a mess? The amount of sugar in one 12-ounce can of soda! Just look at that mound!

Now locate the sugar listing on the soda's nutrition label—40 grams. Four grams of sugar equals one teaspoon. Do the math. That innocent can of pop contains 10 teaspoons of sugar and 160 empty calories.

Even if you don’t drink regular soda, the typical American now eats the equivalent of about 17 teaspoons (68 grams) of added sugars every day. That sugar alone adds up to 270 extra calories—more than 13% of the average person's caloric intake. 

Less is More

So how much should you be limiting these added sugars? Several health organizations, such as the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the World Health Organization and the American Heart Association have established guidelines regarding the intake of added sugars. A healthy eating pattern should limit added sugars to less than 10 percent of calories per day.  This does not include naturally occurring sugars found in fruits (fructose) and dairy products (lactose). The chart below lists this maximum recommended daily sugar intake based on various calorie levels.

Maximum Sugar Intake
(10% of Calorie Intake)

Daily Calorie

Calorie Limit
Added Sugars

Added Sugars

Added Sugars

120 30 7.5

150 37.5 9.0

180 45 11

210 52.5 13

240 60 15

270 67.5 17

Deciphering Labels

It can be confusing to try to find out how much added sugar a food contains. The sugar listing on a Nutrition Facts label lumps all sugars together, including naturally-occurring milk and fruit sugars, which can be deceiving. This explains why, according to the label, one cup of milk has 11 grams of sugar even though it doesn't contain any sugar “added” to it.

To determine how much sugar has been added to a food product, follow these two tips:
  • Read the ingredients list. Learn to identify terms that mean added sugars, including sugar, white sugar, brown sugar, confectioner’s sugar, corn syrup, dextrin, honey, invert sugar, maple syrup, raw sugar, beet sugar, cane sugar, corn sweeteners, evaporated cane juice, high fructose corn syrup, malt, molasses, and turbinado sugar, to name a few.
  • Refer to the chart below for approximate amounts of hidden sugar in foods.Check package nutrition facts label and ingredient list for greater accuracy on specific brands.

Hidden Sugars in Foods

Food Serving Size Added Sugar
Added Sugar
Cranberry Juice Cocktail 1 cup 7 ½ tsp 30 g
Lemonade 1 cup 7 tsp 28 g
Soda Pop 12 ounce can 10 tsp 40 g
Sports Drink 20 ounce bottle 8 ½ tsp 34 g
Sweet Tea 1 cup 5 ½ tsp 22 g
Breakfast Foods
Breakfast Toaster Pastry 1 pastry 4 - 4 ½ tsp 16 – 18 g
Cereal Fruit Bar 1 bar 2 ½ - 3 tsp 10 - 12 g
Chocolate Puffed Cereal 1 cup 3 ½ tsp 14 g
Coffee cake 4 oz piece 5 tsp 20 g
Frosted Shredded Wheat Cereal 1 cup 3 tsp 12 g
Fruit Ring Cereal 1 cup 3 tsp 12 g
Glazed Doughnut 1 doughnut 4 tsp 16 g
Granola Bar 1 bar 2 tsp 8 g
Honey Coated Cereal 1 cup 3 tsp 12 g
Instant Sweetened Oatmeal 1 packet 3 tsp 12 g
Angel Food Cake 4 oz piece 7 tsp 28 g
Banana Cake 4 oz piece 2 tsp 8 g
Brownie, no icing 1 oz piece 4 tsp 16 g
Cheesecake 4 oz piece 2 tsp 8 g
Chocolate Cake, iced 4 oz piece 10 tsp 40 g
Chocolate Chip Cookie 1 cookie 2 tsp 8 g
Cupcake, iced 4 oz piece 6 tsp 24 g
Fig Newton Cookies 2 cookies 2 tsp 8 g
Gingersnaps 1 cookie 3 tsp 12 g
Oatmeal Cookie 1 cookie 2 tsp 8 g
Vanilla Pudding ½ cup 5 tsp 20 g
Chocolate Candy Bar 1 bar 4 ½ tsp 18 g
Chocolate Mint 1 piece 2 tsp 8 g
  Condiments and Sauces
BBQ Sauce 2 tablespoons 3 tsp 12 g
Jam and Jelly 1 tablespoon 2 ½ - 3 tsp 10 – 12 g
Ketchup 2 tablespoons 2 tsp 8 g
Pasta or Spaghetti Sauce ½ cup 2-3 tsp 8-12 g
Salad Dressing 2 tablespoons ½ - 1 tsp  2-4 g
Other Foods
Bread, Whole Grain 1 slice 1 tsp 4 g
Crackers, Whole Grain 16 small crackers 1 tsp 4 g
Peanut Butter 2 tablespoons ¾ tsp 3 g
Tomato Soup 1 cup 3 tsp 12 g
Vanilla Yogurt 8 ounces 3 tsp 12 g

There is room to include a small amount of added sugars in your eating plan to improve the palatability and flavor of nutrient-rich foods—a sprinkle of brown sugar on your morning oatmeal or a dribble of honey in tart plain yogurt. However, the main sources of added sugars like sugar-sweetened beverages, sweets and snacks, need to be limited. These type foods provide little nutritional value to one’s diet but may be adding a substantial amount of unwanted calories.
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Member Comments

Great article..........
.....Thank You. Report
Wish all manufacturers had to list added sugar. Report
Thanks for the info. Report
Great article. Report
thanks Report
Great article! I can now remember 4 grams = 1 tsp. That will immensely in evaluating foods. The chart for grams per day calories in lovely -- again a benchmark for me to go by. In my case, I'm aiming for 37.5 or less. Report
Good information, it can be so hard to monitor all the sugar in things. Report
It isn't easy to limit sugar as it is everywhere. But I'm trying. Like the charts to see what the average for some products would be. Report
Iíve been on a serious kick to healthy and lose weight. I can tell from looking at your list my Sugar intake is very low. Iíve lost 24 pounds and when the sugar finally left my tummy almost went flat. Since Iím almost 60 thatís amazing. Report
thank you Report
Useful Report
The other day when I was at the store looking for almond butter, I couldn't find one without sugar. I saw sugar listed in the ingredient list but showed only 1 or 2 grams listed on the nutrition label. I didn't buy any. Instead I made my own. Which didn't turn out creamy at all. Taste is good though. Report
Very thorough. Thank you. Report


About The Author

Becky Hand
Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.
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