What You Need To Know About Hidden Sugars

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Cane sugar, beet sugar, honey, brown rice syrup, monk fruit, stevia, sucralose… and the list of sugary names goes on. Ingredient lists are filled with a variety of different sweeteners, yet they aren’t necessarily listed as just “sugar.” Food labelers are doing a darn good job of keeping added sugars incognito on the label and fooling consumers. But, don’t let them fool you! Here’s what you need to know about the hidden sugars in your food products.

But first, what’s the scoop on sugar?

There’s no need to fear sugar, just fear eating too much of it, especially from non-whole food sources. Sugar is found naturally in whole foods such as fruits, dairy products, and starchy vegetables. These foods also provide a variety of vitamins, minerals, and sometimes fiber along with the sugar making them nutrient-dense. We run into trouble when our sugar sources are refined and lack key nutrients. All sugar will provide your body with energy but those refined sugars are going to spike blood sugars and replace an opportunity for nutrient-dense food.

Sneaky hidden sugars

Consuming excess sugar in our diets can lead to type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, poor weight management, and nutrient deficiencies. The American Heart Association recommends limiting sugar to 6 teaspoons (25 grams) per day for women and 9 teaspoons (36 grams) per day for men. The average American consumes about 20 teaspoons a day! Be on the look out for added sugars commonly found in foods such as:

  • Soft drinks and sports drinks
  • Flavored yogurts and milk
  • Candy and chocolate
  • Baked goods and desserts
  • Granola and protein bars
  • Ready-to-eat cereal and granola
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Pasta sauces
  • Store-bought condiments, sauces, and dressings
  • Dried fruit
  • Frozen meals
  • Protein powder
  • Pre-made juices, shakes, and smoothies
  • Ice cream and frozen desserts
  • And so much more!

Added sugars can easily add up over the course of the day. Continue reading the actionable steps below to familiarize yourself with common names of hidden sugars and how to avoid excess sugar in your diet.

Actionable Steps


Check the food label

Look for the ‘Total Sugar’ and ‘Added Sugar’ section under ‘Total Carbohydrates.’ Does this amount of sugar fit into your lifestyle? What portion of the Total Sugars is added as an excess sweetener? Learn more about how to read a food label here.


Read the ingredients list

After knowing how much sugar is in the food, look for the types of sugar used to sweeten the food. Aim for as few different sugars as possible and focus on natural sweeteners that come with added nutrients such as date paste, fruits, honey, and maple syrup.


Know the secret sugars

Get familiar with the sugar terminology used on packaging so you can easily identify them on the ingredients list. Use this Guide to Hidden Sugars.


Reduce added sugars in your diet

Start drinking more water to help cut back on sugary drinks. Eat more whole foods that are naturally sweet such as fresh fruit and sweet potatoes. Bake and cook more at home where you can control how much sugar is added into the recipe. Try starting with homemade granola, muffins, or overnight oatmeal.

Dietitian Tip: Craving a sweet treat? Practice mindful eating when enjoying your favorite treats that may have excess sugar. When you sit down without distractions and truly savor every bite, you appreciate the indulgence and often will eat less due to true satisfaction. Learn more tips on how to reduce sugar intake for your family by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.


Read more on this topic

We’ve done the research to find the best sources. Get McKel Kooienga’s, MS, RDN, LDN Guide to Hidden Sugars. Find the Hidden Sugars in the Food You Eat by Johns Hopkins Medicine. Get The Scoop on Added Sugars from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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About the Author

shannon costello

Shannon Costello

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)

Shannon is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Health Coach, Certified Personal Trainer, and Group Fitness Instructor with over 5 years of experience working in Corporate Wellness specializing in overall health, nutrition, and fitness. Throughout her journey to becoming an RDN, she grew her passion for culinary nutrition by teaching and developing hands-on cooking classes for all ages in the community.
Full Bio | LinkedIn

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