Dietician shares the straight skinny on sugar, calories

Date Published: 
January 17, 2014

At the top of most everyone’s resolution list is eating healthier in the new year. Part of being healthy is understanding sugar.

The average American eats about 150 pounds of sugar each year, which equals 30 5-pound bags of sugar.

There are 15 calories in one teaspoon of sugar (or one packet).

On average, we consume 22 teaspoons of sugar per day, which equals 330 calories.

However, the American Heart Association recommends that the maximum daily intake of added sugars be no more than 6 teaspoons (100 calories) for women and 9 teaspoons (150 calories) for men! Added sugars are a major source of calories in our diet but offer little-to-no nutrition value. They lack vitamins, minerals and fiber but promise to provide plenty of empty calories.

However, it is important to remember that not all sugars are created equal! Three common types of sugar are: sucrose or table sugar; lactose, milk sugar; and fructose, fruit sugar.

The difference is that the sugars in fruit and milk occur naturally in the food, along with valuable nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber. Foods and drinks that have sugar added as part of the processing procedure contain almost no nutrients but have lots of calories. These calories do not satisfy appetite the way calories from eating solid healthy food does.

Determining what foods contain sugar can be tricky as it goes by many different names. Here are some common terms for sugar often found on nutrition labels: barley malt, brown sugar, cane juice, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, maltodextrin, maple syrup, molasses, powdered sugar and raw sugar.

Keep in mind, some common foods may be major sources of hidden sugars. For example: pre-packed oatmeal/ready-to-eat cereals, protein bars/meal replacement bars, salad dressings, granola/granola bars, yogurt, ketchup/barbeque sauce/honey mustard, trail mix with dried fruit/chocolate, canned fruit, flavored milk/soy milk/almond milk, fruit snacks, tomato sauce, sugar-sweetened beverages and desserts/

Remember, when you are thirsty, your body is truly craving water — not soda, energy drinks or a frozen coffee treat. Sugar-sweetened beverages are the No. 1 source of added sugars! Drinks such as soda, iced tea, energy drinks, coffee drinks and sports drinks can sometimes have as much as, or even more, sugar than a candy bar.

Follow this general rule: 1 teaspoon = 4 grams sugar.

Here are some breakdowns:

• 20 oz. Mountain Dew = 77 grams of sugar or 19 teaspoons of sugar.

• 20 oz. Gatorade = 34 grams of sugar or 8.5 teaspoons of sugar.

• 18.5 oz. Pure Leaf Sweet Tea = 42 grams or 10.5 teaspoons of sugar.

• 8.4 oz. can of Red Bull = 27 grams or 6.75 teaspoons of sugar.

• 12 oz. can Sierra Mist = 37 grams or 9.25 teaspoons of sugar.

• 8 oz. carton of vanilla soy milk = 15 grams or 3.75 teaspoons of sugar.

Make 2014 your year to cut back on sugar and improve health!

Jaclyn Hennemuth, RD, LDN, is a registered dietitian with Beebe Healthcare, where she provides medical nutrition therapy for inpatients. She graduated from the University of Delaware in 2010 with a degree in dietetics and currently serves as the treasurer for the Delaware Dietetic Association.