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

How can I avoid added sugar?

Step one is to identify the foods you eat that have added sugar.

American adults get 27 percent of their added sugars from drinks. Soda and energy drinks often have more sugar in a single bottle than you should be imbibing all day. Fruit drinks come in a distant second, followed by grain-based desserts (think cake and cookies), with 8.0 and 5.8 percent of their daily added sugars respectively. The other most common added sugar sources are things you might expect—candy, cereal, syrup—but also include bread and tea.

Now, no one is saying you should stop eating bread. Soda and energy drinks, sure; they’re not giving you anything your body needs. But for other kinds of food, simply start making it a habit to check the labels—that’s step two. “I tell people to read the labels and to get more familiar with the names,” Giancoli says. “And don’t be convinced by organic or natural because they all act the same in the body.” Organic cane sugar is still sugar, and so is fruit juice concentrate, evaporated cane juice, dextrose, corn sweetener, cane sugar, malt syrup, and molasses.

Try to eat less of all of those sugars, but don’t expect to get to zero. “It’s not that you can’t have dessert—you should,” Giancoli says. “Food is supposed to be good, but make those choices wisely.”

She says her own rule of thumb is to pick the foods she’s going to really enjoy to indulge her sweet tooth, and to skip the other stuff. And when you do pick a sugar, whether it’s brown or white or honey, pick the one you like. “Don’t choose honey because you think it’s healthier,” Giancoli says. The point is not to load your diet up with sort-of-healthier choices. The point is to enjoy your unhealthy treats in moderation, and avoid unnecessary additives. “If you like it, use it.”