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Sugar is a type of carbohydrate. It contains only calories and lacks vitamins, minerals and fiber. There are 4 calories per gram of sugar.

There are two types of sugar:

  • Natural Sugar – Sugar that is naturally part of that foods such as fruit or milk.
  • Added Sugar – Sugar added for flavor, texture, baking or simply to sweeten foods. Added sugar come from processed foods that manufacturers add to pop, yogurt, candy, cereals, cookies, etc. or it can come from adding sugar yourself like sugar in your coffee.

Americans are eating and drinking too much added sugar which can lead to health problems such as tooth decay, weight gain and obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

How much should I consume?

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests limiting added sugar to less than 10% of all the calories you eat or drink in a day.

  • For a 2,000 calorie diet = no more than 200 calories should come from added sugar
  • Equal to about 50 grams or 10 teaspoons per day

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends even less.

  • Added sugars = no more than 100 calories per day
  • About 6 teaspoons of sugar for women and 150 calories per day or about 9 teaspoons for men

The taste for sweets is learned. This means you can change your taste for sugar by slowly changing the amount of sugar in your diet and eating healthier foods.

How can I cut down on added sugar?

Read the nutrition fact label and ingredient list to determine the amounts and types of sugars in the foods you eat.

  • Serving Size: here’s where you find out what equals a serving and how many servings are in a box or package.
  • Sugars: sugars listed on the nutrition facts panel include naturally occurring sugars and those added to a food or drink. 
  • Ingredient List: Added sugars are called by many different names. Be on the lookout for white sugar, brown sugar, invert sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, lactose, malt syrup, maple syrup, maltose, molasses, raw sugar, trehalose, turbinado sugar, and sucrose. A food is likely to be high in sugar if one of these terms appears first or second in the ingredient list.

Make healthy shifts in what you eat

  • Eat fruit as your dessert instead of cake and cookies.
  • Swap sugar cereals for unsweetened cereal with fruit
  • Make and eat sweet desserts less often. Limit sweet desserts to once or twice a week, try new recipes using less sugar and less fat, reduce sugar by 1/3 to 1/2 in your favorite recipes, limit yourself to a single serving. 
  • Sugar substitutes, such as saccharin and aspartame, may be used instead of sugar. See next section for more information about sugar substitutes.

Make healthy shifts in what you drink

  • Water is the best sugar-free beverage. 
  • Drink low-fat or fat-free milk at each meal.
  • Drink 100% fruit juice if whole fruit is not an option
    • Look for the word “juice” on the label. Words such as “ade”, “cocktail”, “drink”, or “beverage” mean that it is NOT 100% juice.
    • All juice labels must state how much real fruit juice they contain. If it says “made with real fruit juice” or “real fruit beverage”, it doesn’t mean they contain 100% juice.

Sugar Substitutes

Sugar substitutes are also known as sugar alternatives, artificial sweeteners, non-nutritive sweeteners, or high-intensity sweeteners. They are many times sweeter than sugar but contributes only a few to no calories when added to foods. This can be a good way to satisfy a sweet tooth.

Sugar substitutes do not cause tooth decay and generally will not raise blood sugar levels which is especially important for diabetics. However, sugar substitutes can be bad when beverages with non-nutritive sweeteners replace nutrition beverages such as milk. 

Also, low-calorie food and drinks are not always the best options for children who need well balanced calories to properly grow and develop.

There are currently 8 types of non-nutritive sweeteners that have been approved by the FDA (Food & Drug Administration). The 5 listed below are the most common in America.

Acesulfame Potassium (Acesulfame-K)

  • Sunett® and Sweet One®
  • 200 times sweeter than sugar
  • Generally used in contamination with other sweeteners
  • Frequently in sugar-free sodas
  • Can be used for cooking and baking


  • Equal® or Nutrasweet®
  • 200 times sweeter than table sugar
  • People with PKU (Phenylketonuria), a rare genetic disorder, should not use aspartame
  • Cannot be heated. It loses its sweetness


  • Sweet ‘N Low®, Sweet Twin®, Sugar Twin®
  • 200-700 times sweeter than table sugar
  • Old artificial sweetener on the market
  • Can be used for cooking


  • Truvia®, Stevia in the RAw®, SweetLeaf®, Sweet Drops™, Sun Crystals®, and PureVia®
  • Extracted from leaves of the stevia plant
  • 200-300 times sweeter than table sugar
  • Often blended with another sweetener to reduce bitterness


  • Splenda®
  • 600 times sweeter than table sugar
  • Can be used for cooking and baking

Sugar Alcohols

Sugar alcohols (also known as polyols) are carbohydrates and are nutritive sweeteners because they contain some calories. On average have ½ the calories as table sugar. Table sugar has 4 calories per gram and sugar alcohols have 2 calories per gram. Sugar alcohols do not affect the body like alcohol.

Examples include erythritol, isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol and hydrogenated starch hydrolysates (HSH).

Moderate doses of up to 10 to 15 grams/day are generally tolerated. At higher dosages, consuming some sugar alcohols, particularly sorbitol and mannitol, may cause gas, stomach pain, and diarrhea.

Sources: USDA Infant Feeding & Nutrition – A Guide for Use in WIC, CDC, ODPHP, American Heart Association, FDA, Cleveland Clinic

This post was last updated on December 18th, 2019 at 4:37 PM

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