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Do You Know How Much Sugar Is in Your Diet?

By Allison J Stowell MS, RD, CDN ; Updated September 18, 2016

Emerging research in recent years has pointed to sugar's influence on our ability to reach and maintain an ideal weight and prevent chronic conditions and diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

But the conversation about sugar isn't so simple. A clear message regarding just how much sugar to consume daily doesn't presently exist under our current dietary guidelines. Likewise, there is no %DV on the food label, no upper limit from the FDA and limited guidance to reference. Add to it that sugar comes in many forms, and you can see just why the conversation is so difficult and important for us to untangle.

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With so many names for sugar, it's not always easy to know how, when, what type or from where we're getting it. To complicate things, our current nutrition facts panel doesn't let you know how many grams of naturally occurring sugar versus added sugar are in a product. So you're to rely solely on your ability to read the ingredient list and recognize all of those words for sugar as you try to quickly get through your shopping with your primary goals in mind.

For now, the best thing we can do is try to assess just how much sugar (both naturally occurring and added) are in the products we are eating. Figuring that out takes a bit of math, but it looks something like this:

1 teaspoon of sugar = 4 grams of sugar

A product with 16 grams of sugar contains 4 teaspoons of sugar

There are 4 kcals/gram of sugar = 64 calories from just 4 teaspoons of sugar

A sample day shows you just how sneakily the sugar can add up:


Starbucks grande vanilla latte (35 grams of sugar)
Chobani Toasted coconut yogurt (13 grams of sugar) topped with Special K Low-Fat Granola (9 grams of sugar)
Medium banana (about 15 grams of sugar)
Total grams of sugar = 72 grams

Breakfast Redo

Starbucks grande latte (17 grams of sugar)
Nonfat plain yogurt (4 grams of sugar) topped with Bear Naked Fit Triple Berry Granola (3 grams of sugar) and diced banana (about 15 grams of sugar)
Total grams of sugar = 39 grams

Morning Snack

Nutri-Grain Apple Cinnamon cereal bar
Total grams of sugar: 12 grams

Morning Snack Redo

Emerald Dark Chocolate Cocoa Roast Almonds, 100-calorie pack
Total grams of sugar = Less than 1 gram


Salad with:
1/4 cup of dried cranberries (20 grams of sugar)
1/4 cup of candied pecans (8 grams of sugar)
2 ounces of crumbled goat cheese
2 tablespoons of balsamic vinaigrette (4 grams of sugar)
Small honey-wheat dinner roll (2 grams of sugar)
Total grams of sugar = 34 grams

Lunch Redo

Salad with:
Diced medium apple (about 15 grams of sugar)
1/4 cup of chopped walnuts (less than 1 gram of sugar)
2 ounces of crumbled goat cheese
1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and olive oil (2.5 grams of sugar)
1 slice of Nature's Own 100% Whole Wheat Bread (less than one gram of sugar)
Total grams of sugar = 18.5 grams

Afternoon Snack

Peanut Butter Cookie Lara Bar (18 grams of sugar)
Cup of coffee with 1 tablespoon flavored Coffee-mate creamer (5 grams of sugar)
Total grams of sugar = 23 grams

Afternoon Snack Redo

Kashi Chocolate Almond & Sea Salt with Chia Chewy Granola Bar (7 grams of sugar)
There are some granola bars with a little less sugar, but the balanced combination of fat and protein for just the right amount of calories found in this bar makes it a good example snack.

Coffee with regular half-and-half (less than 1 gram of sugar)
Total grams of sugar = 8 grams


About 2 cups of pasta (4 grams of sugar)
1/2 cup of tomato sauce (7 grams of sugar)
Steamed broccoli
Colorful salad with 3 tablespoons of bottled Italian dressing (3 grams of sugar)
Honest Tea Organic Honey Green Tea, 8 ounces (9 grams of sugar)
Total grams of sugar = 23 grams

Dinner Redo

2 cups of whole-grain pasta (4 grams of sugar)
Switching pasta may still give you the same amount of sugar, but the additional protein and fiber will help fill you up.
Chopped vegetables sauteed in olive oil with 1/2 cup of chopped tomatoes (2.5 grams of sugar)
Steamed broccoli
Colorful salad with homemade vinaigrette: olive oil, fresh lemon juice, salt, pepper
Flavored seltzer
Total grams of sugar = 6.5 grams

Total Grams of Sugar for the Day = 164 grams
Total Grams of Sugar Redo = 72 grams

Later this year, we're anticipating new 2015 Dietary Guidelines with a greater emphasis on sugar and clearer guidelines. In the meantime, keep reading ingredient lists, calculating how much sugar you're consuming and looking for foods with the fewest added sugars.

What Do YOU Think?

Do you think you're getting too much sugar in your diet? Are you surprised by how much sugar some of the foods mentioned contain? Do you check food labels for "added sugar" content? Leave a comment below and let us know.

Allison Stowell, M.S., RD, CDN, is the registered dietitian for the Guiding Stars Licensing Company, a company devoted to helping people find the good, better and best choices at the supermarket. Visit Allison's blog to read more, and connect with her on Twitter.

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