Sugars

Sugars are a major source of daily calories for many people and can increase the risk of developing cavities.

What They Are

Sugars are the smallest and simplest type of carbohydrate. They are easily digested and absorbed by the body.

There are two types of sugars, and most foods contain some of each kind.

Single sugars (monosaccharides) are small enough to be absorbed directly into the bloodstream. They include: Sugars that contain two molecules of sugar linked together (disaccharides) are broken down in your body into single sugars. They include:
Fructose Sucrose (table sugar ) = glucose + fructose
Galactose Lactose (milk sugar) = glucose + galactose
Glucose Maltose (malt sugar) = glucose + glucose

Where They Are Found

Sugars are found naturally in many nutritious foods and beverages and are also added to foods and beverages for taste, texture, and preservation.

Naturally occurring sugars are found in a variety of foods, including:
  • Dairy products
  • Fruit (fresh, frozen, dried, and canned in 100% fruit juice)
  • 100% fruit and vegetable juice
  • Vegetables
Added sugars are often found in foods low in other nutrients, including:
  • Dairy desserts (such as ice cream, other frozen desserts, and puddings)
  • Grain-based desserts (such as brownies, cakes, cookies, doughnuts, pastries, pies, and sweet rolls)
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages (such as energy drinks, flavored waters, fruit drinks, soft drinks, sports drinks, and sweetened coffee and tea)
  • Sweets (such as candies, jams, sweet toppings, and syrups)

What They Do

  • Sugars provide calories, or “energy,” for the body. Each gram of sugar provides 4 calories.
  • The human body breaks down sugars into glucose. Glucose in the blood (often referred to as “blood sugar”) is the primary energy source for the body.
  • Glucose can be used immediately or stored in the liver and muscles for later use.
  • Sugars are used to sweeten, preserve, and improve the functional attributes of foods and beverages (such as viscosity, texture, body, color, and browning capability).

Health Facts

  • Most Americans exceed the recommended limits for added sugars in the diet. On average, Americans consume more than 13% of total calories (or almost 270 calories) per day from added sugars, with intakes particularly high among children, adolescents, and young adults. The main sources of added sugars in U.S. diet are sugar-sweetened beverages, desserts, and sweets.
  • Diets lower in added sugars and higher in nutrient-dense* foods and beverages can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
    *Nutrient-Dense: Defined Nutrient-dense foods and beverages contain vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, and other beneficial substances that may have positive health effects. They are also naturally lean or low in saturated fat and have little or no added saturated fat, sugars, refined starches, and sodium. Examples of nutrient dense foods are: beans and peas, eggs, fat-free (skim) and low-fat (1%) dairy products, fruits, lean meats and poultry, seafood, unsalted nuts and seeds, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming less than 10% of calories per day from added sugars. The guidelines also note that many foods and beverages that contain added sugars also tend to be high in calories and provide few or no important nutrients or dietary fiber.
  • Diets higher in both added and naturally occurring sugars can increase the risk of developing cavities (also known as "dental caries").

Action Steps For Monitoring Sugars in Your Diet

Use the Nutrition Facts Label as your tool for monitoring consumption of sugars. The Nutrition Facts Label on food and beverage packages shows the amount in grams (g) of sugars in one serving of the food.
Sugars have no percent Daily Value (%DV), so use the amount of grams (g) as a guide.
  • Look for added sugars on the ingredient list on a food package. Some examples are: brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose sweetener, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, maple syrup, molasses, pancake syrup, raw sugar, sucrose, trehalose, and turbinado sugar.
    Tip: Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight — the closer they are to the beginning of the list, the more of that ingredient is in the food.

  • Focus on eating nutrient-dense foods that contain naturally occurring sugars, such as fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1%) dairy products, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Choose fruit (fresh, frozen, dried, or canned in 100% fruit juice) as snacks, salads, or desserts.
  • Try unsweetened or no-sugar added versions of fruit sauces (such as applesauce) and yogurt.
  • Instead of sugars, syrups, or other sweet toppings, use fruit to top foods like cereal and pancakes.
  • Whenever possible, choose water, fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1%) milk, 100% fruit or vegetable juice, and unsweetened tea or coffee instead of sugar-sweetened beverages (such as such as energy drinks, flavored waters, fruit drinks, soft drinks, and sports drinks).
  • Limit the amount of sugar you add to foods when cooking, baking, and eating.
  • Limit dairy and grain-based desserts (such as cakes, cookies, ice cream, and puddings) and sweets (such as candies, jams, and syrups).
  • Consume smaller portions of foods and beverages that are higher in sugars or consume them less often.
  • When eating out, ask to see nutrition information (available in many chain restaurants), and then choose options that are lower in sugars.
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size 1 package (272g)
Amount Per Serving
Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.
Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs:
Calories: 2,000 2,500
Total Fat Less than 65g 80g
  Saturated Fat Less than 20g 25g
Cholesterol Less than 300mg 300mg
Sodium Less than 2,400mg 2,400mg
Total Carbohydrate 300g 375g
  Dietary Fiber 25g 30g
Previous Next
Back to top