by | Jul 7, 2013 | 6 comments

I recently stumbled across this infographic from the Cleveland Clinic, and (aside from scaring me) it spurred the idea for this post.  sugar shockers

I believe that one of the biggest health threats to most people today is added sugar.  The key word here is added – I am not against the naturally occurring sugars in fruits, dairy, and other sources – in moderation, of course. (Here is a brief article explaining why you need to look out for added sugar, not naturally occurring sugar).

Let’s do some math.  The infographic states that 16% of the average American’s daily calorie intake comes from added sugar.  I’ll ignore the fact that many studies show the average American consumes up to 4,000 calories per day (a big “yikes” when you realize that the average American is also sedentary), and go with the clichéd assumption of 2,000 calories per day.  16% of that is 320 calories per day from added sugar, or 116,800 calories per year.  If we could reduce that by just 1/3, we’d save 38,933 calories per year, which equates to more than 11 pounds of body weight per year.  So if you are trying to lose weight, cutting back on added sugar is an easy way to do so.  If you’re not trying to lose weight, consider the health benefits.  An abundance of added sugar not only reduces our insulin sensitivity and can contribute to Type 2 diabetes and obesity, but it also reduces your immune system’s function, and can contribute to high cholesterol, arthritis, heart disease, depression, osteoporosis, and more.

So are you ready to limit your added sugar?  Here are 7 ways added sugars sneak into our daily diets.  7 ways added sugars sneak into our diets

  1. Tomato sauce/ ketchup: I adore tomato sauce and ketchup, so this one is painful for me to admit, but tomato sauce and ketchup are major hidden sources of added sugar.  A standard 2 tablespoon serving of Heinz ketchup has 8g sugar, and a 1/2 cup of Ragu marinara sauce has 7g sugar.  Sure, some of this is naturally occurring sugar from tomatoes, which is fine, but most commercially prepared tomato-based products are dumping in additional sugar.  Check the label to see if sugar, (high fructose) corn syrup, fructose, or other sugar products have been added in, and limit your serving size to keep the sugar at bay.
  2. Salad Dressing: Even the healthiest sounding salad dressings (like low-fat raspberry vinaigrette, for example) can contain up to 10g of sugar per 2 tablespoon serving!  In this case, you’re probably better off opting for a bit of olive oil and vinegar (like I recommend in my post on How to Build a Healthy Salad), or just limit your portion size of dressing.
  3. Yogurt: Yogurt is healthy, right?  Well, yes it is (it’s the major component of my favorite breakfast, in fact), but many of the fruit-flavored yogurts pack in added sugar even beyond what naturally occurs from the fruit and lactose.  A Chobani 0% peach-flavored Greek yogurt packs 25g of sugar, and much of that comes from the cane juice added in as sweetener.  Even though the boost of protein you get from the Greek yogurt is great, you’re better off adding your own fruit to a plain Greek yogurt and forgoing the added sugar here.
  4. Energy Bars: Energy bars can be a great solution when you need a healthy option on the go, but I always try to look at the sugar content and opt for the choices with less added sugar.  A carrot cake Clif bar packs 25g of sugar – its first ingredient is brown rice syrup and fourth ingredient is cane syrup.  A chocolate peanut butter Luna protein bar (which I love) still has 12g sugar, but a chocolate peanut butter Quest bar (which has recently taken the lead as my favorite) just has 1g sugar.
  5. Sports Drinks/ Juices: A 12-ounce serving of Gatorade has 21g of sugar (all of it added), and even most commercial fruit juices have tons of added sugar to boost flavor.  If you’re sipping on one of these as a “healthy drink” and not using it as post-workout-recovery, you’re probably getting more added sugar than you bargained for.
  6. Coffee Drinks: A small bottled Starbucks Vanilla Frappuccino has 45g of sugar, and a venti Starbucks peppermint white chocolate mocha has 95g of sugar!  Those may be extreme examples, but regardless – sugar creeps into coffee drinks VERY easily.  If you’re ordering from a coffee shop like Starbucks, or if you’re adding sweeteners to your own coffee at home, pay attention to labels and monitor the added sugar you’re getting from your coffee.
  7. Cereal/ granola: Like the first, this one is near and dear to my heart: I love my cereal!  But even the healthiest sounding cereals can pack in a bunch of extra sugar … Kellogg’s Smart Start Strong Heart has 17g per serving, for example, and many granola-like products contain even more.  So, as you’re choosing your cereal, in addition to looking for whole grains, monitor the sugar content and go for a lower-sugar option.

The bottom line is: it’s all about moderation, and a bit of added sugar here or there certainly won’t kill you.  But if you’re looking for easy ways to improve your health or shed a few pounds, why not monitor your intake of these 7 foods, and continue looking at labels to see where added sugars are hiding? (Side note: do you remember when I did the added sugar challenge?  Might be a good one to repeat this week!)

Now tell me in the comments … what hidden sources of added sugar have I missed here?  Do any of these surprise you?


  1. Debbie

    So I have a question….until i get used to no sugar in my coffee and iced tea…..:-( with all the bad news about sweetners (Splenda, Sweet n lo etc) is it better to add 1 tsp of sugar or a pinch of sweetner. I have been reading so much about the artificial stuff i went back to a tsp of sugar…..advice, please!!!!!

    • Megan Lyons

      Great question – this is a HUGE can of worms! It’s a tough debate without a clear answer. I am adding this to my list of topics to write about for a full blog post, but here is my debrief …
      Both sugar and artificial sweeteners have downfalls – neither one is perfect. If it’s really 1 tsp of sugar vs. a pinch of sweetener, then my personal opinion would be go by whichever you prefer (taste-wise) and whichever makes you feel better. If it’s more than that (or if you’re having 10 cups of coffee per day), you should consider your goals … are you trying to lose weight? are you aiming for long term health? What are other sources of sugar and/ or artificial sweeteners in your diet, and which one seems more prevalent right now? How can you cut back on overall consumption of BOTH sugar and artificial sweeteners?
      Basically, it’s not black and white, and there’s no “right” answer. I will definitely go into the downfalls of artificial sweeteners – and tell you about my personal choices – in a future post if there is interest!

  2. Laurie

    4,000 calories a day…dang…Great post, Meg. Thanks for the helpful reminders about where sugar can sneak attack us.

    • Megan Lyons

      I know! Crazy, right? Glad it’s helpful, Laurie!

  3. Katie

    That’s crazy that a seemingly healthy cereals have so much added sugar. I usually check the sugar content of cereals my kids ask for and cereals like frosted cheerios, cinnamon toast crunch and fruit loops are typically “only” 9g – 13g per serving. I am big cereal fan too, and I have never thought to check my healthy cereal for sugar.

    • Megan Lyons

      I know! I agree it’s amazing that kids’ cereals that sound like dessert could actually have less sugar than healthy-sounding cereals. You don’t have to strive for 0g of sugar, but 19g is a bit overboard! Let me know if you find any surprises in the cereals you usually buy.



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Hi! I'm Megan Lyons,

the voice behind The Lyons’ Share. I love all things health, wellness, and fitness-related, and I hope to share some of my passion with you. Thanks for stopping by!
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