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Dec 03, 2014

Keeping Added Calories in Check: Sugars and Sweeteners

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Americans today consume nearly 20% more added sugar in their daily diet than they did 40 years ago.

We’re all guilty of giving into our “sweet tooth.” But we seem to be satisfying our cravings for something sweet more than ever—sometimes unknowingly. 

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Americans today consume nearly 20% more added sugar in their daily diet than they did 40 years ago. On average, we eat six cups of sugar a week—that’s a whopping 42.5 teaspoons of sugar a day! 

Sugar occurs naturally in fruits and vegetables, foods that also provide essential vitamins, minerals and fiber. Sugar—in the form of cane sugar (sucrose), fructose, high fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners can be added to products such as baked goods, sauces, beverages, syrups and jams. Many of these products are also available in low- and no-sugar-added varieties. Careful attention to food labels can help you make decisions about what you consume. It’s important to remember that, regardless of the source, too many calories consumed can lead to health issues. 

“We should look to choose foods like fruits and vegetables often which provide nutritional benefits and to avoid unnecessary calories, which can contribute to expanding waistlines,” says JoAnne M. Foody, MD, FACC, Editor-in-Chief. “When you consume too many calories—more than your body needs to function—you can gain weight. We know this can make diabetes and heart problems more likely.” 

Many people are turning to low- and no-calorie sweeteners in an effort to reduce the amount of sugar, and ultimately, calories they eat or drink. Low- and no-calorie sweeteners are often found in foods including sugar-free or reduced-calorie baked goods, puddings, jams, diet sodas, dairy products, etc. They may also be found in regular-calorie foods to help keep overall calories down. 

“For some people—for example, those with diabetes—low- or no-calorie sweeteners may be a good alternative to sugar because they don’t raise blood sugar levels,” adds Dr. Foody.

Because there are so many different types of sugars, sweeteners and substitutes available, it can be hard to keep them straight. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates food additives, recently proposed changes that would require manufacturers to separately report the amount of added sugar on food labels. As with anything, it’s helpful to be an informed consumer and know the options. 

Getting Savvy on Sweeteners                                            

First, it’s important to remember that natural sugar occurs in its natural state (for example, the sugars found in fruits, vegetables and milk). There are other natural sweeteners like honey that contain antioxidants. While these foods offer other nutritional benefits, the sugars found in these foods act no differently than a food with added sugar. Still other sugars are processed from nature—for example, high fructose corn syrup. Low- and no-calorie sweeteners are increasingly used as a sugar substitute. 

Table sugar (sucrose)

Other sugars and sweeteners

Low- and no-calorie sweeteners and sugar substitutes

Includes raw, granulated, brown, confectioner’s and turbinado sugar 

- Fructose found in fruit

- Sucrose, maltose, glucose, dextrose

- Other sugars of natural origin—a few of which undergo some processing and refining:

  • Agave nectar
  • Honey
  • Lactose (milk sugar)
  • Maple syrup
  • Molasses
  • Fruit juice concentrate/nectars
  • Malt
  • High fructose corn syrup



  • Aspartame (Equal and NutraSweet)
  • Sucralose (Splenda)
  • Saccharin (Sweet n’ Low)
  • Stevia Leaf Extract (Truvia or PureCircle) is extracted from leaf of the stevia plant
  • Acesulfame K (Sunett and Sweet One)
  • Neotame


 Everyday Tips to Keep Tabs on Your Sugar and Caloric Intake 

  1. Familiarize yourself with what’s in the foods you consume. Be mindful of your calorie intake, including sugars—no matter the source.
  2. Read the Nutrition Facts label and compare sugar content. Look for common terms for sugar in the list of ingredients. These may include words like sucrose, glucose, dextrose, glucose syrup, high fructose corn syrup, dextrin, corn sweeteners, maltose, and malt.
  3. Remember that sugar-free doesn’t necessarily mean calorie-free.
  4. Choose water or low- or no-calorie drink options.  
  5. Aim to get 2 cups of fruit a day. Choose 100% juice using a ½ cup per day portion, and/or choose whole fruit to get the benefits of fiber.  
  6. Use fruits to naturally sweeten food.
  7. Talk with your health care provider. For some people with diabetes or those who are overweight, the use of low- and no-calorie sweeteners can help with weight management.
  8. Too many calories, including sugar—regardless of the type—aren’t good for your body or health. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6-7% of your total calories come from added sugar. For women this is 100 calories/day (6½ teaspoons of added sugar/day) and for men it is 150 calories/day (10 teaspoons).

Sizing Up Sugars and Sweeteners

(Click to view infographic)

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