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New Sugar Guidelines: Cut Down on Hidden Sugar

How much sugar is hidden in your diet?

Many folks consider their daily intake of sugar to be low because, most of the time, they don’t add sugar to their food or beverages.  But there is hidden sugar in our food, and the majority of the public does not realize it. More than 75 percent of the food in a grocery store is loaded with added sugar, sodium and artificial ingredients.

Recently, the World Health Organization [1] (WHO) announced we should reduce our intake of sugar to 5 percent of daily calories. For someone on a 2,000-calorie diet, the new guidelines mean a daily sugar limit of about 100 calories or six sugar packets! This includes the number of sugar packets you add to coffee and hot or iced tea.

Warning: Even if you do not add sugar to your beverages, you are not off the hook. That’s because there is also added sugar in packaged foods, including:

And don’t forget to add in other obvious sources of sugar, including desserts, candies and other sweets.

Rule of Thumb

In order to determine how much sugar you are consuming, use this Rule of Thumb:

4 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon of sugar = 1 packet of table sugar 

This formula can be helpful when you look at the nutritional information on a package of food. For example, study a can of soda and do the sugar math:

A can of soda can have 40g of sugar, which is like eating 10 teaspoons of sugar packets or 10  packets of sugar.

It is important to keep in mind that there are two kinds of sugar — naturally occurring and added sugar.  On the nutrition food label, both kinds of sugar are included under the “sugars” listed on the Nutrition Facts panel. The only way to know which is which, is to read the list of ingredients.

Naturally occurring sugars are found in many foods. For example, milk products, such as plain yogurt and milk, and fruit — both healthy choices — contain naturally occurring sugars. Lactose is the sugar in milk, yogurt and cheese; fructose is the sugar in fruit.

Added sugars are found in most processed, prepackaged foods. Check the ingredients list for these words: sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, lactose, maltose, molasses, raw sugar, sucrose, syrup and cane juice.

Note: Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. Those in the largest amounts are listed first.

Once you start reading the food label, you might be surprised to find how many of your food choices are high in sugar and may contain artificial ingredients. The best way to reduce your sugar intake is to eat “real food.” Real food refers to items that are as minimally processed as possible. Choose to prepare your foods and snacks from scratch, and purchase less ready-to-eat or prepared foods.  Select food products that have fewer added ingredients. Look for comparable items made with real food ingredients; naturally, they will contain less sugar and sodium. If they don’t, consider limiting your portion size or choosing an alternative food choice.


About Natalie Castro, M.S., R.D., LDN

Natalie Castro-Romero is the Chief Wellness Dietitian for corporate wellness at Baptist Health South Florida. She earned her bachelor’s degree in nutrition and dietetics from Florida International University.  She completed her master’s degree in nutrition and exercise science at the State University of New York, University at Buffalo. Ms. Romero is certified in adult weight management and works passionately to improve the health of both adults and children. Her clinical experience includes working with patients suffering from gastrointestinal disorders and critically ill patients in intensive care.  In addition, she has conducted research on eating behaviors and pediatric obesity.  Her research has been published in several peer-reviewed medical journals.