Do you know how much sugar is in your food?

April 10, 2023, Kyle Isaacs

Toddler with long brown hair and brown shirt eating pudding and looking away from the camera.Do you know how much sugar is in your food? I am not just talking about candy and sweetened drinks, but sugar found in many foods you might not imagine. Sugar consumption was much lower before we could buy food whenever we wanted. When George Washington was alive, most people ate about four pounds of sugar a year. These days, adults eat about 60 pounds of sugar a year, and kids devour more than 65 pounds. That’s more than 15 times the sugar consumed in the 1700s! And almost half of this is from sweetened beverages, like juice, sweetened teas and coffees, sodas, and sports and energy drinks. Crazy, right? So why is this important? Because too much sugar is not good for your health or teeth, limiting it can help with both.

Infographic: How to spot sugar on an ingredients list

Sugar not only increases the possibility of cavities but for some kids and adults, eating it can change their behavior. Many people do not like how they feel when they eat too much. I can attest to this! Many of us have had an experience when someone else took care of our kids and gave them some sort of treat, only to bring them home and have them bounce off the walls! When we think of sugar, we think of candy, soda, and the like. But sugar has many disguises and can be easily put into something by calling it something other than sugar or sucrose, two of the more common words used. Here you will see a list of the many possible names used for sugar to help you decide whether to eat a specific food.

Did you know that the American Heart Association recommends that no more than a certain amount of sugar be eaten daily? They suggest that men eat no more than nine teaspoons or 36 grams a day, women have no more than six teaspoons or 25 grams a day, and children eat no more than 24 grams or just about six teaspoons each day. Believe it or not, one 12 oz. soda has eight teaspoons or 32 grams, and 12 oz. of apple juice has 27 grams of sugar, about seven teaspoons. Are you shocked by this? But what about the other foods?

Now that you know how much is too much, you can start to look at labels, and I think you will be surprised at how much sugar you eat and drink daily. Shopping and reading labels can be a time-consuming chore. Add to that, having your kids in tow and reading labels becomes almost impossible. If you want to find out which foods have added sugars, you might want to look online when the kids are asleep to find out what foods you usually buy. This will help make things easier when you are shopping. It might also be an eye-opening experience to see how many things have added sugars that you were not aware of before doing this. Even so-called “healthy” and “organic” foods can have sugar. And even though organic sugar may be used, it still isn’t great for our teeth and bodies to have much of it.

Finding alternatives to sugared foods can be helpful in the long run. Don’t think about replacing everything all at once. Have some favorites on hand for special occasions. Once you start decreasing your intake and that of your kids, sugared foods will taste sweeter the next time you have them. I do not believe in cutting out all sugar. We need to find a balance. I wrote more on this in my Halloween blog issue; you can read about it there if you have not already.

Photo of mini boxes of cereal with sugar cubes in front of them.A few years ago, I was in a classroom teaching kids about oral health and which foods had more sugar than other foods. I held up two boxes of cereal. You know, those little single-serving boxes that are cute. I had a box of Special K with the chicken on the front and a box of frosted flakes. This was a kindergarten class, and after we looked at how much sugar was in each one by showing the kids how many sugar cubes each contained, I asked which one was healthier and had less sugar. One little girl jumped up and down and said: “the chicken one, the chicken one!” I realized that I had done my job that day! This is a good lesson for how you can start to teach your kids to read labels to see what is in your food and to be able to make healthy decisions when buying, both for overall health and for oral health.

Read more:

Which Cereals Have the Most Sugar? – Metro Parent

Added Sugar – Harvard School of Public Health

Sugar Science – University of California San Francisco