Sugar: How Sweet It Is

by Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN on February 18, 2005 · 0 comments

The average American eats more than 146 pounds of sugar each year, plus 16 pounds of artificial sweeteners. It’s just too much.

We drink more soda than milk in this country, and buy far more sugared drinks than fruit juice. Studies have shown, that as sugar intake goes up, vitamin and mineral intake and general well-being goes down. Some recent studies have even shown that women who eat a lot of sugar are at greater risk for having children with birth defects.

Cereals, grains, fruits, vegetables, milk and plain yogurt all contain sugars. But, these are natural sugar choices. Vitamins, minerals and fiber come packaged with the sweetness. In contrast, soda, candy, fruit drinks, cakes, cookies, ice cream, jelly and syrup offer little more than sweetness and calories, and are loaded with added sugar.

The difference between natural sugar and added sugar is significant. But you can’t rely on nutrition labels to help you sort things out. The nutrition label on a quart of milk tells you that one cup contains 14 grams of sugar. All of it is from naturally occurring lactose or milk sugar. The label on fruit punch tells you that a one cup serving has 30 grams of sugar. But, almost all of that is from added sugar.

So, how do you tell natural sugars from added sugars? Rely on the ingredient listing. In addition to the word “sugar”, look for the following terms, all of which mean added sugars. Ingredients are listed in descending order by volume. The closer added sugar is to the top of the list, the more is in each serving.

Barley malt Honey
Beet juice Invert sugar
Brown rice syrup Malt syrup
Brown sugar Maltodextrin
Cane syrup Maple sugar
Corn sweetener Maple syrup
Corn syrup Molasses
Crystalline fructose Muscavado
Dextrose Raw sugar
Evaporated cane juice Sorghum
Fruit juice concentrate Sucrose
Fructose Sugar in the raw
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) Turbinado


Bottom line:
Pick sweet foods with naturally occurring sugars, like milk and fruit, more often. Choose foods with added sugars, like fruit drinks, desserts, and sweetened cereal, less often.

For more information on sugars, carbohydrates and fiber, look for the newly released, The Ultimate Carbohydrate Counter by Annette B. Natow, PhD and Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD in local bookstores or at

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