You’ve heard of good carbs and bad carbs, good fats and bad fats. Well, you could categorize sugar the same way. “Good” sugar is found in whole foods like fruits and veggies, because it’s bundled with fluid, fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. For example, one cup of cherries contains about 17 grams of sugar and a cup of chopped carrots 6 grams, but both are so chock-full of good stuff that it would be practicing bad nutrition to banish them. “Bad” sugar, on the other hand, is the type not added by Mother Nature, the refined stuff that sweetens sodas, candy and baked goods. The average American eats 22 teaspoons of "bad" sugar each day, the equivalent of a 4-pound sack once every 20 days!
But sometimes the amount of sugar in a food isn’t so obvious. In each of the pairs below, one food packs about twice as much sugar as the other – without looking at the answers would you have guessed which was “double trouble?”
Starbucks Grande Espresso Frap
Starbucks Grande Vanilla Bean Crème Frap
One serving (3) Twizzlers
One serving (16) sour patch kids
A 4 oz orange scone
A 4 oz apple pastry
2 Double Stuff Oreos
3 York Peppermint Patties
Here are the sugar shockers:
The vanilla frappucino has twice as much sugar as the grande espresso frappucino with 56 grams or 14 teaspoons worth of sugar.
Sour patch kids have twice as much sugar as the twizzlers with 25 grams or 6 teaspoons worth of sugar.
The scone packs twice as much sugar as the pastry with 34 grams or 8 teaspoons worth of sugar.
The Peppermint Patties contain twice as much the double stuff oreos with 26 grams or 6.5 teaspoons worth of sugar.
Cutting back on processed foods and sweets is the best way to reduce your intake of “bad” sugar, but it’s also a good idea to read the labels since more sugar may be lurking inside than you suspect. There’s just one caveat – be sure to check both the sugar grams and the ingredient list. The grams listed don’t distinguish between naturally occurring (“good”) and added (“bad”) sugar. For example, the label on a can of pineapple canned in pineapple juice may list 13 grams of sugar, but if you check the ingredients you'll see that none has been added. And some foods contain a mixture of both types, like yogurt. A single serving of plain, nonfat Greek yogurt, which is unsweetened, lists 6 grams (all from the naturally occurring sugar called lactose found in milk), while the same portion of vanilla, nonfat Greek yogurt contains 11 grams of sugar. In the case of the vanilla yogurt, the extra five grams come from the sugar listed in the ingredients.
So become a sugar sleuth: Reading the ingredient list can help you enjoy the good stuff guilt free and avoid too much of what's not-so-good for your health or waistline.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.