What are added sugars?

Added sugars add many extra calories to the average American diet. Learn how to decrease added sugars in your diet to improve your health.

Added sugar is any sugar or syrup that has been added to a food or food product. Much of the sugar in processed and packaged foods is added sugar. Added sugars increase the amount of calories that Americans consume every day. Sugars do naturally occur in much of the food that we eat, such as milk and fruit.

How much is okay to eat?

The American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than 100-150 calories (about 25-38 grams) of added sugar daily. One can of regular soda averages around 40 grams of added sugar. Other common foods that have added sugars include but are not limited to candy, cakes, cookies, pies, pastries, donuts, fruit drinks (fruitades and punches) and dairy desserts like ice-cream.

How do I know if it’s added or natural?

On the current nutrition facts label (to learn about upcoming label changes read the Michigan State University Extension article FDA changes to nutrition facts label coming soon), sugar is nested under carbohydrates. This only tells you that the product you are consuming contains sugar and how much. To determine if the sugar is natural or added, you’ll have to read the ingredients list. The following is a list of words on the ingredients list that indicates that sugar has been added. If these words do not appear in the ingredients list, then the sugar is naturally occurring.

Anhydrous Dextrose

Brown sugar

Cane crystals

Cane juice

Cane sugar

Confectioner’s powdered sugar

Corn sweetener

Corn syrup

Corn syrup solids

Crystal dextrose

Crystalline fructose


Evaporated corn sweetener

Evaporated cane juice


Fruit juice concentrate

Fruit nectar (any kind)


High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)


Invert sugar


Liquid fructose


Malt sugar

Malt syrup

Maple syrup


Pancake syrup

Raw sugar



Sugar cane juice


White granulated sugar


Tips for decreasing added sugars in your diet

  • Eat more whole foods. Whole foods is when food has not been processed, this way you know that any sugar is natural.
  • Decrease the amount of sugar you add to food/drink – try slowly reducing the amount of creamer or sugar that you add to your coffee, if you don’t want to give it up all together.
  • Try the reduced sugar or sugar-free drink options.
  • Instead of flavored oatmeal, try plain and add your own toppings like berries, bananas, walnuts, almonds and/or raisins.
  • Use extracts and spices for flavor and reduce (or eliminate) sugar in recipes. Examples of extracts include vanilla, almond, chocolate or orange. Examples of spices include cinnamon, ginger, allspice or nutmeg.
  • Substitute unsweetened applesauce for sugar while baking. Applesauce is naturally sweet and can be substituted one for one in a recipe.
  • Read the ingredients list!

Beware of some “no sugar added” products. Some companies will add more fat to substitute for the missing flavor of sugars. Remember that nutrition is comprehensive and not to focus on one ingredient.

MSU Extension offers nutrition education classes for adults and youth that include information on healthy food choices consumers can make. More information can be found at http://msue.anr.msu.edu/topic/info/nutrition.

Did you find this article useful?