Sugars are a type of carbohydrate that occurs naturally or that is added to a food.
Foods such as milk and fruits have naturally occurring sugars. The sugar in fruit is called fructose. The sugar in milk and yogurt is called lactose.
Added sugars are those that do not occur naturally in a food or drink but are added during processing or preparation. Added sugars add calories but little nutrition. They can cause weight gain and prevent you from eating more nutritious foods. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans strongly recommend you limit foods and drinks that contain added sugars.footnote 1 The American Heart Association recommends that children and teens have less than 6 teaspoons of added sugars a day and drink no more than 8 ounces of sugary beverages a week.footnote 2
Lots of drinks have added sugar, such as regular soda, fruit juice, sports drinks, and energy drinks. And lots of foods have added sugar, such as cakes, cookies, pies, ice cream, and candy.
Added sugars can be found in less obvious foods too. Bread, yogurt, baked beans, ketchup, and salad dressing can have a lot of added sugar. Also, foods that have reduced sodium (salt) and/or fat often have more sugar, which is used to boost the flavor.
And don’t be fooled by “health foods” that may be low in saturated fat and salt but that have a lot of sugar. For example, look out for sugar in processed foods like cereal, granola, crackers, nutrition bars, drinks, and even tomato sauce. Fat-free cookies, candies, chips, and frozen treats can still be high in sugar and calories.
The best way to know the amount of added sugar is to look at the ingredients list. Ingredient lists are ordered by weight, so if you see sugar or another name for sugar listed early in the ingredients list, that food has more sugar in it compared to the ingredients that follow it.
The nutrition facts on food labels lists both the total and added amount of sugar in the food.
Because added sugars are not always called “sugar,” it can be hard to identify them in foods. Look for these words in the ingredients:
- Brown sugar
- Corn sweetener
- Corn syrup
- Evaporated cane juice
- Fruit juice concentrate
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Invert sugar
- Raw sugar
- Table sugar
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture (2015). 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans 8th ed. http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/. Accessed January 12, 2016.
- Vos MB, et al. (2016). Added sugars and cardiovascular disease risk in children: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation, 134:00-00. DOI: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000000439. Accessed August 30, 2016.
Current as of: November 7, 2018
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Kathleen Romito, MD – Family Medicine & John Pope, MD, MPH – Pediatrics & Rhonda O’Brien, MS, RD, CDE – Certified Diabetes Educator