And you might actually mistake some for being healthy.
You save chocolate cake for special occasions. You gave up soda (at least most days). You steer clear of the office candy bowl, and you cut way back on the amount of sugar you added to your morning java. In other words, you’ve totally got a handle on your sweet tooth. Right?
Even if you think you’re not eating a lot of sweets, sugar finds its way into the strangest foods (even bread, tomato sauce, and hot dogs). All of those add up throughout the day, which is why 70 percent of Americans exceed the recommended daily limit of added sugar, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The Daily Recommended Limit of Added Sugar
Added sugars are empty calories, which means they add to your calorie count without giving you any nutritional benefits—no fiber, no protein, no vitamin C, etc. The obvious risk with sugar is that it can make weight management more difficult, and carrying extra weight is linked to a variety of health conditions.
But calories aren’t the only concern: A 2014 study from JAMA Internal Medicine that high-sugar diets increased the risk of early death from heart disease—regardless of body mass index. In other words, even if you’re at a healthy weight, consuming more than 10 percent of your daily calories from added sugar increases your risk of heart disease.
That means giving up sugar isn’t just a strategy for weight loss. Find out how your body changes when you eat less sugar.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends using the following guidelines for your daily sugar limit:
25 grams of added sugar for women (or 6 teaspoons, or 100 calories)
36 grams of added sugar for men (or 9 teaspoons, or 150 calories)
Foods with More than 25 Grams of Sugar Per Serving
Of course, you’re likely to exceed the AHA’s sugar limit on your birthday or July 4th, when you’re splurging on a slice of ice cream cake or apple pie. That’s fair. The AHA’s recommendation is more for your everyday eating habits.
Wanna see how easy it is to exceed that recommendation … without eating any “dessert” at all? Look how many common foods meet or exceed 25 grams of sugar in just a single serving.
Bran muffins: An apple bran muffin from Starbucks has 34 grams of sugar.
Maple syrup: There’s 26.5 grams of sugar in two tablespoons of maple syrup (and many people put closer to ¼ cup of maple syrup on their pancakes).
Nutella: This beloved spread contains 21 grams of sugar per two tablespoons, which is admittedly short of the daily limit, but be honest: When have you ever stuck to just two tablespoons?
Sweet and sour chicken: This takeout fave is called “sweet” for a reason. In one frozen entree, you’ll get about 29 grams of added sugar. Oh boy.
Flavored espresso, matcha, and chai drinks: There are 35 grams of sugar in a small French vanilla latte from Dunkin Donuts. (If you add an eclair to that order, that’s a total of 58 grams of sugar just for breakfast!) Find out how to make your daily coffee a little healthier here.
Some snack bars: You can certainly find low-sugar bars (most KIND bars contain around 5 grams, for example). But you’ll definitely want to check the labels on snack bars, since some pack in as much sugar as a candy bar. Exhibit A: a CocoaVia chocolate almond snack bar contains 27 grams of sugar per bar. Here are tips to buying healthier snack bars.
Flavored iced teas: In one bottle of Pure Leaf peach iced tea, there are 26 grams of sugar. You’re better off making your own iced tea at home and infusing with fresh fruit for just a touch of natural sweetness.
BBQ wings: Although low in fat, barbeque sauce is high in sugar. When you consider how much sauce gets slathered on your wings, you can imagine how quickly it adds up. You’ll get 24 grams of sugar in a small order of chicken wings at Buffalo Wild Wings.
Many, if not most, fruity cocktails: Sorry for the sobering news (pun intended), but a classic margarita from Applebee’s has 32 grams of added sugar. Most of the sugar in cocktails comes from sweet mixers like triple sec, vermouth, cranberry juice, and lemonade.
Soda, obviously: This one’s no secret, but it’s important to remember just how much sugar is one can of the fizzy stuff. After all, an average of 25 percent of added sugars in the American diet comes from soda, according to the USDA. So here’s the damage: A 12-ounce can of Sprite contains 33 grams of sugar. Learn more about why switching to diet soda isn’t recommended either.
Ready to cut back?
Applebee’s menu. Applebees. (Accessed on June 7, 2018 at https://www.applebees.com/en/menu.)
Apple bran muffin. Seattle, WA: Starbucks. (Accessed on June 7, 2018 at https://www.starbucks.com/menu/food/bakery/apple-bran-muffin.)
Beverages, carbonated, SPRITE, lemon-lime, without caffeine. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Accessed on June 7, 2018 at https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/14145.)
Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Accessed on June 7, 2018 at https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/.)
Eating too much added sugar increases the risk of dying with heart disease. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Medical School, 2016. (Accessed on June 7, 2018 at https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/eating-too-much-added-sugar-increases-the-risk-of-dying-with-heart-disease-201402067021.)
Ferrero, Nutellla, Hazelnut spread with cocoa. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Accessed on June 7, 2018 at https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/45061538.)
Formulated bar, MARS SNACKFOOD US, COCOAVIA, Chocolate almond snack bar. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Accessed on June 7, 2018 at https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/25010.)
Hamel maple syrup co., 100% pure maple syrup. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Accessed on June 7, 2018 at https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/45193106.)
Nutrition. Dunkin Donuts. (Accessed on June 7, 2018 at https://www.dunkindonuts.com/en/menu/nutrition.)
Nutrition, allergen, & preparation guide. Buffalo Wild Wings. (Accessed on June 7, 2018 at https://www.buffalowildwings.com/globalassets/pdfs/nutrition-and-allergen-guide-2018-zone1-lent-bdubs-express.pdf.)
Pure Leaf peach tea 18.5 fluid ounce bottle, unprepared. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Accessed on June 7, 2018 at https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/315570.)
Sugar 101. Dallas, TX: American Heart Association, 2017. (Accessed on June 7, 2018 at http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Nutrition/Sugar-101_UCM_306024_Article.jsp#.WxmPuZM-fOR.)
Sweet & sour chicken. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Accessed on June 7, 2018 at https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/45365819)
Yang Q, Zhang Z, Gregg EW. Added sugar intake and cardiovascular diseases mortality among US adults. JAMA Int Med. 2014 Apr;174(4):516-24.