Everything you need to know about added sugars (and how to avoid them)

You should already be avoiding added sugars—but you’re probably not. Whoops.

With all the guidelines on what you should and shouldn’t eat floating around, it’s easy to overlook a few. Most of them seem like nonsense anyway. But avoiding added sugar is one that’s actually important.

Americans consume massive quantities of sugar, much of it in soda and candy, and it’s contributing to the rising rates of obesity. Sugar is delicious, there’s no doubt about it. But it’s also terrible for you. It triggers huge spikes in your blood sugar, prompting your body to store all that excess energy as fat, and eventually desensitizing your pancreas such that it can’t produce insulin in proper quantities (as is the case in people with type II diabetes).

Added sugar is fine in small quantities, but those daily quantities are on the order of 6 to 9 teaspoons for women and men respectively. The average American consumes 19.5 teaspoons per day. According to a recent survey by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control, toddlers now eat more than the recommended amount for adults.

“People don’t realize how much added sugar is in their diet,” says Andrea Giancoli, a registered dietitian and dietary policy expert. “We know some obvious culprits, but not the ones that are less obvious.” Sugar goes into baked goods not just for sweetness, she says, but because it helps with browning and adds bulk. Fruit drinks with beautiful logos look healthy and have health-halo words like “organic” and “natural,” but Giancoli notes that those terms just serve to trick people into thinking bottled juices are healthy. They’re usually not. And sometimes people don’t even recognize the names of the sugars inside a product. Often manufacturers list different types separately so that “sugar” isn’t the ingredient with top billing, and the other terms thrown into the mix might not read as sugar to the average consumer.

If you want to cut back, you’ll need to figure out what an “added sugar” even is, why it’s bad, and how to avoid it. And whaddya know—we went ahead and created the guide you need to conquer your added sugar habit .

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