It is estimated that the average person in the United States consumes around 19.5 teaspoons, or 82 grams (g) of sugar, per day. That is over double the amount recommended by the American Heart Association (AHA), which is 9 teaspoons per day for men and 6 teaspoons for women.
To keep control of sugar levels, it can be helpful to know just how much sugar is in the most widely-available foods. This MNT Knowledge Center article is a one-stop resource listing the sugar content for a range of both processed and natural foods that people in the U.S. eat every day.
- Men should eat no more than 9 teaspoons of sugar per day and women no more than 6.
- Chocolate bars, sweet cereals, and soda often contain high levels of added sugar.
- Fruits contain natural sugars that are less harmful than the sugar found in processed food.
- Regularly consuming too much sugar increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
What is sugar?
Sugar is a sweet addition to food that can cause serious health problems when consumed in excess over an extended period.
Sugar is a simple carbohydrate that belongs to a class of chemically related sweet-tasting substances. It is available in many different forms.
The three main types of sugar are sucrose, lactose, and fructose.
Even though cells need glucose to survive, consuming too much can cause health problems.
Being aware of the existing and added sugar content in foods and drinks is vital to overall health. So many products have sugar added to them that, in the modern food market, people must take extra steps to avoid consuming more than the recommended amount.
In March 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) published new guidelines recommending that adults and children reduce their intake of added sugars to less than 10 percent of their total energy intake. A further reduction to below 5 percent is associated with additional health benefits.
The term "free sugars" refers to any glucose, fructose, and sucrose added to foods and drinks, as well as the sugars that occur naturally in syrups, honey, and fruit juice. The term does not apply to the natural sugars found in fresh fruit, vegetables, or milk because there is no evidence linking these sugars to health problems.
A single teaspoon of sugar is around 4 g. The AHA recommendation for daily added sugar intake, 6 teaspoons for women and 9 teaspoons for men, is equal to 24 g and 36 g of added sugar, respectively.
Below are some common everyday foods and drinks, listed with their sugar content.
This aims to give guidance when making dietary choices. The sugar content of some of the following items may be higher than expected.
While there are less harmful chocolate options, such as dark or raw chocolate, there is a wide range of chocolate bars available on the market and the sugar content varies between brands and products.
- Snickers bar (57 g): 5.83 teaspoons of sugar
- Milky Way bar (58 g): 7.02 teaspoons of sugar
- 3 Musketeers bar (60 g): 8.14 teaspoons of sugar
- Butterfinger bar (60 g): 5.58 teaspoons of sugar
- Dove chocolate bar (37 g): 4.16 teaspoons of sugar
- Hershey's Milk Chocolate bar (43 g): 4.87 teaspoons of sugar
- Twix bar (57 g): 5.68 teaspoons of sugar
- Milk chocolate M&M's packet (42 g): 5.68 teaspoons of sugar
Drinking fizzy, sugary beverages can end up contributing most of your daily sugar intake.
- Coca-Cola (one can, 330 ml): 7.25 teaspoons of sugar
- Red Bull (one can): 5.35 teaspoons of sugar
- Sprite (one can): 7.61 teaspoons of sugar
- Old Jamaica Ginger Beer (one can): 10.18 teaspoons of sugar
A study published in Circulation, the journal of the AHA, identified a link between drinking more than one can of soda a day and an increased risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.
Some cereals are extremely sugary.
In the U.S., breakfast cereals are among the most commonly consumed foods with high levels of added sugar.
The following values show the amount of sugar per 100 g serving in some of the most popular cereals.
- Alpen: 4.05 teaspoons of sugar
- Cheerios: 0.88 teaspoons of sugar
- Corn Flakes: 1.93 teaspoons of sugar
- Cocoa Krispies: 7.83 teaspoons of sugar
- Froot Loops: 8.46 teaspoons of sugar
- Raisin Bran: 6.35 teaspoons of sugar
- Frosted Flakes: 7.12 teaspoons of sugar
- Honey Smacks: 11.4 teaspoons of sugar
- Rice Krispies: 2 teaspoons of sugar
- Special K: 2.57 teaspoons of sugar
- Wheaties: 3.08 teaspoons of sugar
- Trix: 6.49 teaspoons of sugar
- Lucky Charms: 7.33 teaspoons of sugar
- Rice Chex: 1.62 teaspoons of sugar
- Wheat Chex: 2.09 teaspoons of sugar
- Corn Chex: 2.25 teaspoons of sugar
- Honey Nut Cheerios: 6.67 teaspoons of sugar
- Reese's Puffs: 6.3 teaspoons of sugar
- Golden Grahams: 7.1 teaspoons of sugar
- Cocoa Puffs: 7.55 teaspoons of sugar
- Cookie Crisp: 7.06 teaspoons of sugar
- Shredded Wheat: 0 teaspoons of sugar
- Cocoa Pebbles: 7.26 teaspoons of sugar
- Banana Nut Crunch: 3.55 teaspoons of sugar.
In June 2012, researchers from Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity suggested that even though some cereals aimed at children had become more nutritious, cereal companies had increased their advertising spending considerably. Cereal advertising aimed at children increased by 34 percent between 2008 and 2011.
Marlene Schwartz, deputy director of the Rudd Center, said:
"While cereal companies have made small improvements to the nutrition of their child-targeted cereals, these cereals are still far worse than the products they market to adults. They have 56 percent more sugar, half as much fiber, and 50 percent more sodium.
The companies know how to make a range of good-tasting cereals that aren't loaded with sugar and salt. Why can't they help parents out and market these directly to children instead?"
Fruits contain a type of sugar called fructose. Fresh fruit has no added sugar, but sugar levels range from 1 teaspoon per 100 grams in cranberries to over 3 teaspoons in grapes.
All figures below show naturally occurring sugar per 100 g serving. Keep in mind that consuming fruit is part of a healthy and well-balanced diet and that the sugar in fruit has demonstrated adverse affects on health.
- Mangos: 2.77 teaspoons of sugar
- Bananas: 2.48 teaspoons of sugar
- Apples: 2.11 teaspoons of sugar
- Pineapples: 2 teaspoons of sugar
- Grapes: 3.14 teaspoons of sugar
- Lemons: 0.5 teaspoons of sugar
- Kiwi fruit: 1.82 teaspoons of sugar
- Apricots: 1.87 teaspoons of sugar
- Strawberries: 0.99 teaspoons of sugar
- Raspberries: 0.9 teaspoons of sugar
- Blueberries: 2.02 teaspoons of sugar
- Cranberries: 0.87 teaspoons of sugar
- Tomatoes: 0.53 teaspoons of sugar
To calculate the sugar content and overall nutrients of almost anything you can find in a supermarket, click here and enter the name of what you are eating or planning to buy into the search bar.
Eating too much added sugar poses a risk to heart health.
The AHA has urged people to cut their intake of added sugar because of evidence that it can lead to the following health conditions:
- Obesity: A recent study in QJM found that eating more sugar and consuming artificially sweetened soda is associated with obesity.
- Heart disease: Research published in JAMA Internal Medicine investigated sugar intake and deaths related to cardiovascular disease. They concluded that: "Most U.S. adults consume more added sugar than is recommended for a healthy diet. We observed a significant relationship between added sugar consumption and increased risk for cardiovascular disease mortality."
- Type 2 diabetes: Although sugar does not directly cause diabetes, individuals who consume more sugar than average are more likely to be overweight, which is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that an excessively high proportion of the population is consuming too many calories from added sugars.
A report published in 2013 revealed that nearly 13 percent of adults' total intake of calories comes from risky sources, such as sugar and high fructose corn syrup.
Dr. Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist, wrote in the BMJ in 2013 that dietary advice on added sugar is damaging people's health. Dr. Malhotra said:
"Not only has this advice been manipulated by the food industry for profit but it is actually a risk factor for obesity and diet-related disease."
Currently, food labels in the U.S. and Europe only contain information on total sugars per serving and provide no details about added sugar, making it almost possible for people to find out how much sugar was added to the food in processing.
The good news, however, is that it will soon be required that food labels show added sugar. This will make it easier to calculate the quantity of harmful sugar in the diet.
Some food companies have already adopted the new food labels that highlight added sugar.
Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology, explores the damage caused by sugary foods in this video. He argues that eating too much fructose and too little fiber appear to be central causes of the obesity epidemic through their effects on insulin.
In the video below, Dr. Miriam Vos, Assistant Professor of Pediatric Gastroenterology at Emory University School of Medicine, explains what "added sugars" are and how they are different from the natural sugars found in fruit or milk.
Be sure to stay vigilant and monitor your sugar intake.