Monthly Health Message:

Where is Sugar Hiding in Your Meals and Snacks?

May 2015

Karen Ensle Ed.D., RDN, FAND, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

You may be surprised to learn the extent of the amount of sugar in the following food and beverage items.

Yogurt - Yogurt is an important source of calcium and protein, but even low-fat flavored yogurt can have 17 to 33 grams of sugar per 8-ounce serving. That is about as much as 2 scoops (1 cup) of chocolate ice cream. Try buying it plain and toss in the fresh fruit of your choice.

Pasta Sauces - They taste delicious, but many pasta sauces have between 6-12 grams of sugar per half-cup serving. That’s the same amount that you’d get from a chocolate chip cookie. The American Heart Association recommends that women have no more than 100 calories of sugar per day (about 6 teaspoons' worth) and men have no more than 150 calories (about 9 teaspoons). Too much sugar can lead to extra pounds. Check all ingredient labels for the sugar content of your favorite marinara or Alfredo sauce before planning your next meal.

Granola Bars - Check food labels for ingredients like corn syrup, brown sugar, honey, dextrose, and fructose. Some have a yogurt or chocolate coating, or chocolate chips, which can ramp up the sugars fast from 8 to 12 grams per serving. Instead of eating a 1-ounce granola bar, switch to 1 ounce of granola (about 1/3 cup) and the sugar is only about 5 grams.

Instant Oatmeal - Oatmeal is great for being full of fiber, but many fruit-flavored instant oatmeal products have between 10 to 15 grams of sugar per packet. “Reduced sugar” varieties can have closer to 5 or 6 grams per packet. A better alternative is to add sliced banana or apple slices to plain instant oatmeal. It has less than 1 gram of sugar in a cereal packet.

Kids Breakfast Cereals - Cereals developed for kids are high in sugar, but even healthier sounding ones add it in. Many popular oat, corn and bran cereals have 10-20 grams or more per cup. No matter what the food label says on the front of the box, make sure to read the ingredients label so you know what you’re buying.

Energy Drinks - Most of these drinks say they will give you a lift and they contain a hefty amount of sugar along with caffeine. Some energy drinks have 25 grams per 8-ounce serving. Do you grab the energy drink because you are tired? Try some cold water instead to stay hydrated.

Packaged Fruits - Mandarin oranges in light syrup have about 39 grams of sugar per 1-cup serving. You can minimize the sugar somewhat by draining the cup but that lowers the sugar to 15.5 grams. Better still, fruits packed in fruit juice, NOT light syrups, or fresh fruit is a better choice.

Dried Fruit - With all the water taken out, dried fruit has concentrated sugar by volume than fresh fruits. A small 5 oz box of raisins has more than 25 grams of sugar. Instead, eat a cup of grapes for 15 grams of sugar.

Ketchup - This condiment contains about 4 grams of sugar per tablespoon so go easy when adding it to a burger or other foods. That's not as much as some other foods on this list, but if you’re trying to cut back on sugar, then switch to regular mustard which contains less than 1 gram of sugar per tablespoon.

Salad Dressing - Sweet dressings, such as raspberry vinaigrette, French, and Catalina, have about 5 to 7 grams of sugar in a 2-tablespoon serving. Remember to keep dressings to a minimum or choose a light homemade oil and vinegar dressing which has only about 1 gram of sugar per Tablespoon of dressing.

Coleslaw - A popular side dish at delis and fast-food restaurants. One regular-size side of coleslaw from many popular fast-food places will provide about 15 grams in sugar. If you're craving coleslaw, make a low-sugar version at home.

Tea - Many popular lemon-flavored iced teas have about 32 grams of sugar per bottle. A cup of apple juice has 24 grams. Try brewing your own tea instead.

Take small steps to reduce the sugar content of your diet and be a consumer that reads labels and purchases healthy foods.


  1. Rutgers
  2. Executive Dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources
  3. School of Environmental and Biological Sciences