The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


The Sweet (and Sour) of Sugar

Posted in
Eat better

Thursday, Apr 10, 2014

Pop Quiz: How many more pounds of sugar do Americans eat each year as compared to 1970? 5 pounds? Maybe 10?... Would you believe 15 more pounds? According to, the average American eats 15 more pounds of sugar each year than in 1970. This finding suggests that Americans, on average, need to scale way back on added sugars and sweeteners! Let’s reflect to an earlier post to remind us of the ever-present sugars surrounding us every day.

What exactly are added sugars? Added sugars are sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages during processing or preparation. They differ from naturally occurring sugars such as those that occur in milk and fruits. Foods with added sugars are often calorie dense and nutrient poor.

Foods that contain most of the added sugars in American diets are:

  • regular soft drinks
  • candy
  • cakes
  • cookies
  • pies
  • fruit drinks, such as fruitades and fruit punch
  • milk-based desserts and products, such as ice cream, sweetened yogurt and sweetened milk
  • grain products such as sweet rolls and cinnamon toast
But, there are many other foods/beverages with added sugar, including some of these summertime favorites:
  • ketchup, barbeque sauce
  • pork and beans
  • salad dressing
  • lemonade, bottled tea
How do you know if a food/beverage has added sugars? The Nutrition Facts label lists how many total grams of sugar the food contains, but does not list added sugars separately. The amount listed includes sugars that are naturally present in foods (such as the fructose and sucrose in fruit, or the lactose in milk) and sugars added to the food during processing or preparation. So, you need to read the ingredient list on the food label as well as the Nutrition Facts. Some sneaky names for sugar that you may see in the list of ingredients include:
  • corn sweetener, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup
  • fruit juice concentrates
  • honey
  • invert sugar
  • malt syrup, syrup
  • molasses
How much added sugars should someone consume each day? The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 do not provide specific recommendations for added sugars but rather advise Americans to choose and prepare foods and beverages with little added sugars or caloric sweeteners. The Guidelines do, however, suggest that Americans on a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet, who divide their discretionary calorie allowance equally between solid fats and added sugars, limit consumption of added sugars and sweeteners to 8 teaspoons (32 grams) per day - less than the amount in one 12-ounce can of soda (approximately 39 grams of sugar).  For a list of the amount of added sugars in common foods, click here.

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