We’ve all heard that “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,” but did you know there’s already plenty of the sweet stuff in that decongestant you are swallowing? And your spaghetti sauce? And even the canned veggies you feed your kids?  

Carbohydrates include fruit, vegetables, starches (like bread and potatoes), and of course, sweet ole sugar. An essential nutrient, carbohydrates are the body’s main source of both quick and sustained energy. All carbohydrates have “approximately” four calories of energy per gram of weight. As an example, one teaspoon of sugar equals 4 grams and 16 calories and unfortunately, when eaten in large quantities, provides excessive calories that can ultimately lead to weight gain and other concerning medical issues. And it’s not just “sugar” that you’ll need to be aware of on your favorite food labels — you’ll need to also recognize the other forms, including honey, raw sugar, turbinado sugar, brown sugar, confectioner’s sugar, powdered sugar, high fructose corn syrup, concentrated fruit juice, dextrose, glucose, molasses, corn syrup, maltose, sucrose, xylitol, or mannitol.

Why worry about sugar? Aside from providing empty calories, one of sugar’s major drawbacks is that it raises the insulin level. An influx of sugar into the bloodstream upsets the body’s blood-sugar balance, triggering the release of insulin, which the body uses to keep blood-sugar at a constant and safe level. Prolonged, elevated insulin levels can increase the risk for disease by causing inflammation within your body and by inhibiting key hormones that regulate the immune system. Insulin also promotes the storage of fat, so that when you eat excessive sweets high in sugar, you’re making way for rapid weight gain and elevated triglycerides, both of which have been linked to cardiovascular disease.

How much sugar should we be eating?
According to the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, it’s recommended no more than 8 teaspoons/day of added sugar based on a 2,000 calories/day diet. That’s 32 grams if you’re reading labels, and about 6% of your total calories for the day.

That means:

  • 32 total grams /4 grams per teaspoon = < 8 teaspoons added sugar/day
  • 1 teaspoon sugar = 1 sugar cube = 1 sugar packet

Good sugars
Sugars that occur naturally in foods and also supply key nutrients. You don’t have to worry about or consider counting!

  • Low-fat milk (skim milk, 1% low-fat milk)
  • Fresh and frozen fruits (apple, blueberries, orange, pineapple, strawberries, banana, cantaloupe, etc.)
  • Most vegetables (carrots, tomato, zucchini, broccoli, spinach, cucumber, etc.)

Bad sugars
The following foods are typically loaded with sugar. Read through and learn to limit your intake by reducing the portions of your favorite sweet foods.

(1 teaspoon = 4 grams sugar)

Everyday products

  • Fruit Loops, 1 cup = 3.75 teaspoons
  • Low fat, fruit-flavored yogurt, 6 oz. = 7 teaspoons
  • Pancake syrup, 1/4 cup = 8 teaspoons
  • Ketchup, 4 Tablespoons = 4 teaspoons

Foods that sound healthy, but are loaded with sugar!

  • Granola, 2/3 cup = 4 teaspoons
  • Dried fruit, 1 cup = 21 teaspoons


  • Orange juice/ apple juice, 8 oz. = 5.5 teaspoons
  • Snapple, Lemon Iced Tea, 16 oz. = 11.5 teaspoons
  • Strawberry Passion Fruitopia, 20 oz. = 17.5 teaspoons

Snacks & desserts

  • Balance/Power Bar = 4.75 teaspoons
  • McDonald’s Vanilla Shake, 21 oz. = 24 teaspoons
  • Frozen yogurt, 8 oz. = 8.5 teaspoons
  • Restaurant chocolate cake, 1 slice = 13 teaspoons

Movie theatre combo

  • Twizzlers, (movie size) 6 oz. = 17+ teaspoons
  • Soda, (movie large) 44 oz. = 37 teaspoons
    Total = 54 teaspoons!

Here’s a sample day’s menu with an appropriate amount of sugar — less than 8 unnecessary teaspoons for the day.


  • Egg white omelet with chopped tomatoes and whole wheat toast and 1/2 grapefruit
  • Coffee with 1 teaspoon sugar


  • Cup of veggie or lentil soup with salad topped with grilled chicken strips (vinaigrette dressing on side)


  • Handful of almonds
  • Apple
  • Carrots


  • Turkey burger on wheat bun with 2 Tablespoons ketchup (2 teaspoons sugar)
  • Sautéed broccoli in olive oil and garlic