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Sugar is confusing on so many levels. Is it natural to the product or added—and does that matter for our health? (Yes, up to a point.) Why don’t food labels tell us how much sugar we can safely eat? (In part because that would be the death of the sugar industry.) What about all the different names for sugar: Are cane juice crystals sugar? How about sorghum syrup? Dextran? Barley malt? (Yes, in all cases.)

One thing we can safely assume: We’re probably eating too much of it. Sugar has been decisively linked to various chronic diseases and tooth decay. It meets the criteria for being a legally regulated substance, says Dr. Robert Lustig, an expert on the harms of sugar at the University of California, San Francisco. “The bottom line is we have a limited capacity to metabolize it—virtually like every poison, kind of like alcohol. So a little is OK; a lot is not,” Dr. Lustig told Vox last year.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends reducing our daily intake of added sugars to less than 5 percent of our total energy intake (calories consumed). For example, if you consume 2,000 calories a day, aim not to exceed 25g (6 teaspoons) of added sugars. Natural sugars are less concerning.

For each pairing, CLICK the item that you think has more sugar.

If this leaves you feeling icky-sweet, check out the#fedupchallenge and try to make it through 10 days without added sugar.

1 Mega Stuf Oreo® OR Burger King Whopper®

The Whopper® has a whopping amount of sugar—more than your cream-stuffed Oreo®.

In a recent Student Health 101 survey, almost half the students who responded thought the Whopper contained more sugar. Right. The burger is a sugary mess and the bread is the culprit. Take away that sesame seed bun and the sugar in your burger falls from 12g to 5g. Most of the bread we eat in the US contains added sugar.

The Burger King Whopper® contains the disruptive triad of sugar, fat, and salt. When these three ingredients are combined, they affect the brain like a drug, according to a 2013 study by researchers at the University of Bordeaux, France. You aren’t lazy and lethargic; it’s the food that makes you feel that way. To stay energized and maybe live longer, eat fast foods sparingly.

+ Try a reverse food log. Reward yourself for the sugary stuff you avoid.

1 Mega Stuf Oreo®— 9g

Burger King Whopper®— 12g

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends not exceeding 25g of added sugar in a 2,000 calorie diet.

5.3 oz. Chobani® Greek yogurt OR 2 cups Campbell’s® Tomato Soup

This one is tricky, but that comforting bowl of tomato soup has more sugar.

We’re not the only ones playing tricks. The food industry sometimes tricks you too by adding ingredients you don’t recognize into your food.

There are almost 60 different names for sugar listed on food labels, according to Sugarscience.org. If you don’t feel like tattooing the list on your arm, check out our Pinterest panel to the right.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that honey is a healthier alternative to sugar. If you want to sweeten your plain yogurt, add a small amount of honey and embellish with fresh fruit, seeds, etc. This way you’re in control of how much sugar is added to your food.

Americans consume an average of 66 pounds each of added sugar a year, according to 2013 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Ideally, go European and live on fruit, vegetables, legumes, fish, and nuts and seeds. The Mediterranean diet is among the healthiest on the globe. This diet reduces the risk of death from chronic diseases, according to a 2008 meta-study in the British Medical Journal.

5.3 oz. Chobani® Greek yogurt (Black Cherry)— 17g

2 cups of Campbell’s® Tomato Soup— 24g

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends not exceeding 25g of added sugar in a 2,000 calorie diet.

32 oz Mott’s® apple juice OR 32 oz Gatorade®

Fruit is good, but fruit juice usually isn’t. This apple juice contains more sugar than Gatorade® does.

In our survey, 53 percent of students went with the apple juice. Correct.

Even natural sugars can be concentrated in unnaturally high doses—as in fruit juice, which lacks the fiber that helps us metabolize fruit. If you routinely drink sugar-sweetened sodas or fruit juices, cutting those out will drastically reduce your sugar consumption. These drinks make up 36 percent of the added sugar we consume, according to SugarScience.org. Instead of fruit juice or sodas, eat a piece of fruit with a glass of water.

About those sports drinks: Unless you’re a high-intensity performance athlete, you probably don’t need to replenish your electrolytes. Stick with the no-sugar alternative: water.

32 oz. lemon-lime Gatorade®— 66g

32 oz Mott’s® apple juice— 112g

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends not exceeding 25g of added sugar in a 2,000 calorie diet.

1 medium banana OR 1 KIND Fruit & Nut bar

The banana has more sugar, but don’t hate on it.

In our survey, two in three students thought the KIND bar has more sugar. Surprise! It’s the banana—but only a little more. This doesn’t mean you should stop eating bananas. Those sugars are natural, and they are tied to the fiber in the fruit, so we avoid the blood sugar spike that comes from added sugars. Also, fruit is packed with nutrients.

Focus on checking the labels of all manufactured food products, including anything that’s being marketed as healthy—like fruit-and-nut bars. Three out of four packaged foods in the American food supply contain added sugar, according to a 2012 study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

+ To see through manufacturers’ packaging tricks, check out this guide from Consumer Reports.

1 KIND Fruit & Nut bar (almond & coconut)— 12g

1 medium-sized banana— 14g

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends not exceeding 25g of added sugar in a 2,000 calorie diet.

1 Panera Bread® pumpkin muffin OR 1 can Coca-Cola®

Do you know the muffin man? He may be your supplier. The Panera Bread® pumpkin muffin has more sugar than a can of Coca-Cola®.

In our survey, three out of four students surveyed thought that Coke has more sugar—but the muffin takes the cake. A single muffin contains almost double the WHO recommended limit for added sugar (25g).

Muffins are packed with sugar, but at least you can remember that you ate one. The Coke taste is “forgettable,” according to research at Givuadan, a flavor and fragrances manufacturer in Switzerland. Coke ranks higher in popularity than sodas that have very strong tastes, meaning we can drink several in a day and not get tired of the taste. Soda fans may find it easier to limit their intake if they stick with more vibrantly flavored options.

+ How sweet are your drinks? Take a look and keep yourself in the green (and occasionally yellow; red means you’re overdoing it).

+ Down with cooking? Try these creative ways to reduce your sugar intake.

1 Panera Bread® pumpkin muffin— 47g

1 can of Coca-Cola®— 39g

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends not exceeding 25g of added sugar in a 2,000 calorie diet.

1 cup whole milk OR 1 Newton (fig)

Reconsider your childhood. Milk and cookies? Your glass of milk actually has more sugar.

In our survey, just one in three students got this right. Let’s be clear: Milk is a good source of nutrients. The sugar in milk, lactose, is natural (straight from the cow). Where you’ll run into trouble is with flavored milk that averages 4 teaspoons of added sugar per cup. One cup of Nesquik fat-free chocolate milk contains 22g of sugar—which by itself almost brings you to the 25g daily limit.

Many products, like chocolate milk, contain natural and added sugars. Manufacturers are required to tell us the total amount of sugar in their products, but they don’t have to tell us how much of that sugar they’ve added.

+ Tired of not knowing what you’re eating? Join chef Jamie Oliver in supporting mandatory food education across the world. Sign the petition and check out #Foodrevolutionday.

1 Newton cookie (fig)— 6g

1 cup of whole milk— 12g

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends not exceeding 25g of added sugar in a 2,000 calorie diet.



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Joanna Carmona is communications coordinator at the National Patient Safety Foundation. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Student Health 101. She has also edited collegiate textbooks for Cengage Learning and creating language learning materials for the US Department of Defense, libraries, and other educational institutions. Her BA in Spanish is from the University of New Hampshire.