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What Are Added Sugars?

Plus, How They Affect Your Body

In general, people in the United States consume far too many added sugars. This can contribute to a variety of health problems, including:

Limiting how much added sugar you consume can help you maintain better and more consistent health.

It adds up fast.
— Audra Wilson, MS, RD, CSOWM, LDN, CSCS

Learn About Sugar

There are naturally occurring sugars in all foods and drinks, but added sugar refers to any type of sugar or sweetener that is added to foods or beverages when it is prepared or processed.

Some common types of added sugars include:

  • Brown sugar
  • Honey
  • Corn syrup
  • Molasses
  • Raw sugar
  • Sugar molecules ending in "ose", like fructose, glucose and sucrose

This also includes the sugars you add yourself, like a spoonful in your coffee or a bit of honey on your oatmeal.

Naturally occurring sugars are found in foods like fruit (as fructose) or milk (as lactose). While sugar is sugar, naturally occurring sugars are usually accompanied with fiber or protein or both, which makes food choices like apples or yogurt a healthier source of longer lasting energy.

Sugar promotes quick energy, explains Audra Wilson, MS, RD, CSOWM, LDN, CSCS, a bariatric dietician at Northwestern Medicine. However, that burst is shortly followed by a steep drop.

Understand Your Intake

The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to no more than 6% of your daily calorie intake:

  • For most women* in the United States, that limit is about 6 teaspoons of sugar.
  • For most men* in the United States, it is about 9 teaspoons.
  • Teens and children should have no more than about 6 teaspoons each day.

To help visualize your intake, Wilson says to divide the total grams of added sugar by four to estimate the teaspoons of sugar in your food.

"If a food has 20 grams of added sugar, we can equate that to about 5 teaspoons of sugar," she says. "It adds up fast."

Prioritize Your Health

There are ways to avoid too much added sugar, and everyone can benefit from reducing added sugars in their diet, says Wilson. While this often means eating fewer processed foods, most foods that we eat are processed in some way.

Wilson shares some tips to help balance your diet:

  • Read your food labels. You can learn a lot about what is affecting how you feel based on your diet. For example, you might see that the Greek yogurt you have been eating has more sugar per serving than some ice creams.
  • Combine your macronutrients. Pair your carbs with protein and some healthy fats, like those found in avocados and nuts. Meals and snacks will not just be more filling and satisfying, but they will also last longer.

If you are having a hard time cutting back on your added sugars, talk to your health care team. They can help you craft a plan with safe and easy ways to eliminate excess added sugar from your diet.

*Scientists do not always collect information from participants about gender identity. To avoid misrepresenting the results of this research, we use the same terminology as the study authors.

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