Added sugar has received a lot of attention in nutrition news. Understanding the difference between added sugar and natural sugar can help you make healthier choices.

What is added sugar?

Added sugar is sugar that does not occur naturally in the food. This type of sugar is added to the food during processing. The main food sources of added sugar in the American diet are sugar-sweetened beverages like soft drinks, sport, energy, and fruit drinks, as well as doughnuts, cookies, cakes, candy, pies, and ice cream. The sugar that is naturally found in many fruits, dairy products, and some vegetables is not considered added sugar.

How much is too much?

The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting added sugar to less than 10% of your total calories, which is about 12 teaspoons (or 48 grams) per day for a 2,000 calorie diet. To put this in perspective, a 20 ounce Coke has about 16 teaspoons of added sugar, which is 130% of the daily recommendation! The American Heart Association recommends an even lower amount of added sugar – around 6 teaspoons (24 grams) for women and 9 teaspoons (36 grams) for men per day.

Why do I need to limit added sugar?

Added sugar provides empty calories that can easily put us over our calorie goal without getting the nutrients we need. For example, eating a doughnut (added sugar) in the morning instead of an apple (natural sugar) gives you extra calories without the fiber, vitamins, and other nutritional benefits of fruit. Studies have shown that higher intake of added sugar is associated with a higher risk of cancer, heart disease, inflammatory disease, and many more health issues.

How do I know if I'm eating added sugar or natural sugar?

Currently, nutrition labels only list the total amount of sugar in a product, which includes natural and added sugar combined. However, the Food and Drug Administration recently approved a new nutrition label, which lists added sugar separately from total sugar. The new label will also include the percent of your daily value for added sugar. It will take a couple of years for all foods to have the new nutrition label, but until then look for these words in the ingredients list to spot some common sources of added sugar:

  • Sugar
  • Molasses
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Maltose
  • Crystal dextrose
  • Raw sugar
  • Malt syrup
  • Maple syrup
  • Fructose
  • Glucose
  • White granulated sugar
  • Honey
  • Pancake syrup
  • Anhydrous dextrose
  • Liquid fructose
  • Sucrose
  • Dextrose
  • Nectars
  • Evaporated corn sweetener
  • Invert sugar

How do I cut back on added sugar?

Making small changes can help you gradually cut back on the amount of added sugar that you have each day. Limit desserts to special occasions, and enjoy smaller portions when you do indulge. Watch out for sugary cereals and specialty coffee drinks and check the labels and ingredient lists on products like yogurt to find the option with the lowest amount of added sugar. Try adding fresh berries or dried cranberries to your morning cereal or oatmeal instead of sugar, or try swapping out a soda for fruit-infused water or naturally flavored seltzer water.


Identify one source of added sugar in your diet. Use the following options to reduce your added sugar intake this week:

  • Consume it less often (twice a week instead of every day)
  • Eat/drink a smaller amount (7.5-ounce soft drink instead of 20-ounce)
  • Make a healthy substitution (caramel flavored rice cakes instead of cookies)

Warm Cinnamon Banana Bites

Prep Time: 5 minutes / Cook Time: 5 minutes / Makes: 2 servings


2 slightly overripe bananas
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Olive oil spray


  • Slice bananas into rounds, approximately 1/3 inch thick.
  • In a small bowl, combine the cinnamon and nutmeg. Set aside.
  • Spray a large skillet with olive oil spray and warm over medium heat. Add banana rounds and cook for about 2-3 minutes.
  • During the last minute of cooking on the first side, sprinkle about ½ of cinnamon mixture over banana rounds.
  • Flip the rounds, sprinkle with remaining cinnamon mixture, and cook about 2-3 more minutes until bananas are soft and warmed through.

Nutrition Information per Serving (Serving Size: ½ recipe)
Calories: 110, Total Fat: 1 gram, Saturated Fat: 0 grams, Sodium: 1 milligram, Carbohydrates: 28 grams, Fiber: 4 grams, Sugar: 15 grams, Added Sugar: 0 grams, Protein: 1 gram

Recipe inspired by Dizzy, Busy, and Hungry

Chocolate Peanut Butter Granola Apple Wedges

Prep Time: 5 minutes / Makes: 8 wedges


1 medium apple, sliced into wedges
2 Tablespoons peanut butter
2 Tablespoons granola
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 Tablespoons melted dark chocolate chips


  • Coat tops of apple wedges in peanut butter and sprinkle with granola and cinnamon.
  • Melt dark chocolate chips in microwave, stirring in 30 second increments until melted. Be careful not to overheat.
  • Slightly drizzle wedges with melted chocolate, and enjoy!

Nutrition Information per Serving (Serving Size: 2 wedges)
Calories: 100, Total Fat: 6 grams, Saturated Fat: 2g, Sodium: 37 milligrams, Carbohydrates: 11 grams, Fiber: 2 grams, Sugar: 8 grams, Added Sugar: 4g, Protein: 2 grams

Recipe adapted from The Comfort of Cooking