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When it Comes to Added Sugars, Think Sprinkle, Not Scoop

by Sharon Palmer, R.D.

Maybe you’ve sworn off refined “white” sugar and think that sweetening a latte with, say, agave nectar, is better because, “it’s natural.” Truth is, most health experts agree that the best move you can make when it comes to added sugars (those added to foods by consumers or manufacturers) is to eat less of them. All of them.

The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to 100 calories per day (6 teaspoons) for women and 150 calories a day (9 teaspoons) for men. But Americans’ average per capita daily sugar consumption is a whopping 28 teaspoons. Too much sugar can increase risk for obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

You don’t have to ditch sugars all together. Get to know the types you’re seeing, learn how to spot added sugars on labels, and then sweeten sparingly.

Here’s help:

1: Granulated Sugar (a.k.a., sugar, table sugar)

nutrition-sugarGranulated sugar is composed of 50 percent glucose and 50 percent fructose. This pure white sugar has been processed and therefore it has few minerals and antioxidants.

Per teaspoon: 16 calories, 4 g carbohydrate

2: Agave Nectar

nutrition-agaveThis sweetener has a glycemic index (measure of how high a food raises blood-glucose levels after eating) that’s significantly lower than that of table sugar; it’s also up to 90 percent fructose. Agave is good for giving smoothies and iced drinks a touch of sweetness.

Per teaspoon: 21 calories, 5 g carbohydrate

3: Honey

nutrition-honeyDelivers slightly more fructose than glucose. Honey’s antioxidant quantity varies greatly based on type; buckwheat honey typically delivers the most. Honey provides a delicate, sweet flavor to dressings, marinades and slaws.

Per teaspoon: 21 calories, 5 g carbohydrate

4: Molasses

nutrition-molassesAbout 50 percent each glucose and fructose, dark molasses has the highest antioxidant levels of all sweeteners (per serving). It’s great for adding a hint of sweetness to baked beans, homemade BBQ sauces and ginger cookies.

Per teaspoon: 19 calories, 5 g carbohydrate

5: Maple Syrup

nutrition-syrupA go-to for drizzling over pancakes and waffles, maple syrup is about 50-50 glucose and fructose (depending on grade) and contains small amounts of polyphenols – antioxidants that help quell inflammation.


6: Turbinado (raw sugar)

nutrition-turbinadoLike granulated sugar it’s 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose. The brown color comes from small amounts of molasses that haven’t been stripped out. It’s best for topping cookies for a sugary crackle.

Per teaspoon: 18 calories, 5 g carbohydrate


Glucose is a so-called simple sugar found in all foods with carbohydrate. A label’s “sugars” designation includes both natural and added sugars.

Fructose, a simple sugar, is found naturally in fruit (and honey and agave nectar). When isolated from whole foods (and eaten in excess), fructose could present unique health risks, say some health experts.


Added sugars lurk in many processed foods. And although more and more food companies are ditching high-fructose corn syrup, their products aren’t necessarily sugar-free. In fact, they may contain just as much sugar as before, just in a different form. Here’s how to find out:

1: Read the nutrition facts panel

Under a food label’s “sugars” designation, both natural and added sugars are included. Natural sugars (such as lactose in milk and fructose in fruit) are not usually a problem because they come in small doses and are packed with other nutrients, which helps slow absorption.

2: Check the ingredient list

All of the following are aliases for added sugar. The higher up on the list they appear, the more sugar is in the product. Dextrose, fructose, honey, invert sugar, raw sugar, malt syrup, rice syrup, sucrose, xylose, molasses, corn sweetener, fruit juice concentrate, high-fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, corn syrup, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose, evaporated cane juice, agave nectar, cane crystals, cane sugar, crystalline fructose, barley malt, beet sugar, caramel.

3: Compare products

Determine how much unhealthful added sugar your product contains by comparing it to a comparable sugar-free product, such as strawberry yogurt to plain yogurt, or canned peaches in syrup to canned peaches in juice.

EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at



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