In this report
Overview
75 Years of CU
Consmers Union 75th Anniversary 75 years bold

A retrospective of Consumer Reports and its place in the American consumer landscape.

Where sugar hides and how to eat less

Last reviewed: January 2011
Enlarge image Enlarge Chart

Americans consume an average of about 22 teaspoons a day of added sugar, according to the National Cancer Institute. That type doesn't occur naturally—the way fructose does in fruit—and its calories might lack extra nutrients. A sensible daily limit of added sugar is more like 6 teaspoons for women and 9 for men, the American Heart Association says.

Sugar can plead not guilty to some accusations. Many studies have debunked the idea that it causes hyperactivity in kids, for example. But it does nourish the bacteria that cause cavities, and the AHA says that added sugar is associated with increased risks of high blood pressure and high triglyceride levels. A study published last year in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention suggested that drinking an average of five sugar-laden soft drinks a week increased the risk of pancreatic cancer.* And it's probably not coincidental that the nation's obesity epidemic has progressed in step with increased sugar consumption.

The foods above, bought recently near our headquarters, are just a few in which sugar can hide. The cubes represent all sugar, added and natural, because labels don't list those separately. Our symbolic cube equals 1 teaspoon. The amount in real cubes might be less.

What you can do

Study nutrition facts and ingredients. Other names that signal sugar include dextrose, fruit-juice concentrate, glucose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, sucrose, beet sugar, high-fructose corn syrup (the Corn Refiners Association has asked the Food and Drug Administration to change that to corn sugar), and evaporated cane juice. Other steps:

  • Try alternatives. Artificially sweetened foods are one option, but there are others. Mott's No Sugar Added applesauce has the equivalent of about 3 teaspoons less sugar per serving than the version pictured; Rao's Homemade Tomato Basil Marinara Sauce has almost 2 teaspoons less than the Newman's Own. Some lower-sugar options are surprising. A chocolate-glazed Dunkin' Donut has about half the sugar of a small Dunkin' Donuts Mocha Swirl Latte.
  • Add less sugar to foods such as cereal and substitute cinnamon.
  • Choose treats that contain some nutrients. Opt for fruit, say, or low-fat chocolate milk.
  • Replace candy with dry-roasted nuts or baked tortilla chips.
  • Watch what you drink. Sodas are the leading source of added sugar in the American diet, but many bottled teas and juice drinks are also loaded with sugar. Spike water with strong tea or fruit juice. Make smoothies from fresh or frozen fruit, plain nonfat yogurt, and ice.

* Editor's note: The original version of this story reported that an epidemiological study last year found that drinking two or more sugar-laden soft drinks a week almost doubled the risk of pancreatic cancer. On further review, we realized that the epidemiological study that suggested a link between consumption of sweetened soft drinks and increased risk of pancreatic cancer was not conclusive. While the study's conclusion mirrored that found in some earlier studies, there are also studies that have found no effect of soft-drink consumption on the risk of developing pancreatic cancer. More research is needed in this area.