Sugar has gotten a lot of press about being bad for us. I have clients who are logging their food get upset about how much sugar they are eating when, in reality, most of it is coming from fruit – which is an OK source of sugar. The kind of sugar I recommend people watch is the added sugar in foods. This can be hard to understand because what we see on the food label – grams – is hard to visualize. In general, 4 grams equals about a teaspoon of sugar. This helps me visualize how much sugar really is in the food I’m looking at when I’m reading a label.
Comparing different items helps make it more real. A small apple has about 15 grams of sugar, or almost 4 teaspoons. Remember, in an apple the sugar is there naturally. A 20 oz Coke-A-Cola has 65 grams of sugar or 16 teaspoons of sugar! Again, the sugar that occurs naturally in a food is OK with me. The added sugar in the soda and other processed foods is the thing to watch.
How much sugar should you have a day? The American Heart Association recommends that you get no more than 17 grams of added sugar for each 1,000 calories. If you need 2,000 calories per day, that means, at most, you should get 34 grams or 136 calories from sugar (there are 4 calories for each gram of sugar).
How do you track the added sugars in your foods? There are two ways. The first is to look at the nutrition facts panel and see how many grams of sugar are in the food. The second is to read the list of ingredients. If a sugar is in the first three ingredients, it is considered a “high sugar” food. That said, sugar can hide on the label with about 100 different names. If you’re not sure if an ingredient is sugar, look it up. Here is a list of other names for sugar you may find on labels.
As you’re shopping, become sugar smart. Pay attention to how much added sugars you’re getting. And, if you find sugar hiding in an interesting place, please tell me about it.