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Understanding Nutrition Labels and Serving Size

Reducing the Intake of Refined Sugar is Important for Weight Management and Avoiding Obesity

© 2010 Serina J. McEntire, Ph.D.; all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without written permission.

Sports drinks like Gatorade have more sugar than you think

How much sugar are you drinking? According to the World Health Organization, no more than 10% of your calories should come from added sweeteners. The USDA food pyramid calls for a maximum of 12 tsps (48g) of sugar in a 2200 calorie diet, which is approximately 9% of your daily calories.

How Much Hidden Sugar is in Your Diet?

It’s probably more than you think. For most people, this works out to be between 30-60g of sugar per day. However, it is not uncommon for Americans to consume more than 20 tsps of sugar or more than 30% of their daily calories from sugar!

Understanding how to calculate how much added sugar is in our food and drinks is very important, particularly with the increasing trend of overweight and obesity in Americans!

When we think of sugar, we often think of candy or chocolate. However, many of our favorite drinks contain just as much sugar as those candies, if not more.

Often we tend to misunderstand nutrition labels because they only reveal information regarding a smaller percentage of the full drink. Therefore, we need to calculate and find what amounts of sugar we truly are consuming.

Do the Math

We can use the following conversions to convert grams of sugar to teaspoon and tablespoon:
5 grams sugar = 1 teaspoon (tsp) sugar
14 grams sugar = 1 tablespoon (tbsp) sugar

For example: a can of Sprite contains 140 calories and 38 grams of sugar. By dividing 38 grams by 5 grams sugar, we end up with 7.6 or 8 teaspoons. By dividing 38 grams by 14 grams, we end up with 2.7 or 3 tablespoons of sugar.

Therefore, our can of Sprite contains 8 tsp or 3 tbsp of sugar. Can you imagine scooping 8 tsp or 3 tbsp of sugar into your mouth?

Food Labeling is Deceptive—for a Reason

These are a few more examples:

Snacks Might not be as Bad as You Expect

The next time you grab that can of Sprite or Coke, take the time to look at the nutrition label. You might be surprised to find out that your favorite candy bar has less sugar than your favorite drink. Now to think about some of our favorite snacks:

Make reading nutrition labels a habit! Your teeth, heart, and waistline will thank you.

About the Author:

Serina McEntire, PhD, is an Exercise Physiologist in the Dept of Emergency Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. She has more than 10 years experience in the health and fitness industry working with a wide range of clients. She also coaches a half marathon training group.

Recommended Related Articles


  1. American Dietetic Association. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Use of nutritive and nonnutritive sweeteners. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Feb 2004. 104(2):255-275.
  2. Center for Science in the Public Interest Sugar content of popular foods, August 1999.
  3. World Health Organization WHO/FAO release of independent expert report on diet and chronic disease. March 3, 2003.
  4. A Healthy Me!

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