ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

How to Understand Sugar and Carbohydrates in Food Labels

Updated on April 21, 2015
Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

Marcy writes about cooking, hobbies, and many other topics. She has published hundreds of articles online and in newspapers and magazines.

How Many Grams in a Teaspoon of Sugar?

Each teaspoon of sugar has about three grams of carbs
Each teaspoon of sugar has about three grams of carbs
Sugar is found more places than you think!
Sugar is found more places than you think!

Which Foods Contain Carbohydrates?

We live in a world of sugar-free sodas and sugar-laden breakfast cereals. In one day, we can righteously use a packet of artificial sweetener in our morning cup-of-whatever, drink a diet cola and then ruin our good intentions and our health by eating or drinking excess sugar found in other foods.

Years ago, people used to talk about ‘sugar diabetes,’ as though the only things you needed to avoid were desserts and other foods that are obviously full of sugar. Anything else – juice, fruit, potatoes, corn, salted chips, whatever, was considered safer to eat. Even if it was fattening (such as the chips). While it’s true that certain foods should be eaten in moderation (if at all), it’s not true that all non-sugar foods are safer to eat than those that are blatantly filled with sugar.

Sugar is a carbohydrate. Other foods are also carbohydrates, such as starches and even milk, vegetables and fruits.We will not discuss all carbohydrates here; instead, we will talk about how to interpret certain foods and their labels to get an understanding of what you’re eating. And how to make healthy choices in your daily diet.

A carb is a carb is a carb. It doesn’t matter what form the carb comes in, it’s still a carb. Some carbs process more slowly (and less harmfully) in your body. Anything with some fiber or more substance to it is a bit easier on your body than a straight shot of sugar.

Drinking a 12-ounce can of soda is like putting 10 or more spoons of sugar in your body!

There are four grams of sugar in one teaspoon serving.
There are four grams of sugar in one teaspoon serving.
Each cube represents one spoon of sugar.
Each cube represents one spoon of sugar.
Juice has a higher sugar content than fresh fruit, and generally does not have the fiber found in fruit.
Juice has a higher sugar content than fresh fruit, and generally does not have the fiber found in fruit.

Facts about Sugar and Carbohydrates

Here are a few facts about carbohydrates and sugar, and some points about common foods that can raise your blood sugar more than you might prefer.

What is a grams of sugar? One of the first things to learn is how to translate the ‘grams’ of sugar or carbs in a label. A teaspoon of sugar has about four grams of sugar in it.

Read the label! Check that can of soft drink and see what you’re about to put in your body! Four ounces of A&W Cream Soda has 46 grams of sugar in it. That’s more than 11 teaspoons of sugar! Classic Coke is a bit better, but at 39 grams, it still gives you almost 10 teaspoons of sugar in one can. According to energyfiend.com, Mountain Dew Game Fuel (a 20-ounce serving) has 77 grams of sugar. That’s more than 19 teaspoons of the sweet stuff.

If you wouldn’t eat 10 teaspoons of sugar out of a bowl, why would you drink it out of a can?

Fruits and Juices: Fruits are carbohydrates, but because they are in the solid form and contain fiber, they don’t raise your blood sugar as rapidly (or as high) as a glass of juice does. Diabetics are taught that fruit juice is basically concentrated sugar. You might think you’re doing a good thing for your body by having !00-percent juice drinks for breakfast, but you’re actually giving it a hit of sugar. As with other foods that have nutritional value, go easy on juice.

One cup of orange juice has about 25 grams of sugar, which translates to slightly more than six teaspoons full. It also provides 137 percent of the daily value of vitamin C.

A fresh orange of equal size (about one cup of orange sections) has 21 grams of sugar (just more than five spoons). However, it also provides four grams of fiber (about 17 percent of your daily needs), which helps offset the effect of the sugar on your body.

Sugar Sugar, by the Archies (Check out the frog, the dog and the rabbit). Sugar has always symbolized something desirable.

Potatoes, rice and corn are starches, not vegetables

The fiber in potatoes helps offset the carbs, but moderation is still important.
The fiber in potatoes helps offset the carbs, but moderation is still important. | Source
Rice is a carb, just like bread or potatoes.
Rice is a carb, just like bread or potatoes. | Source
Corn is another starchy food.
Corn is another starchy food. | Source

Do Starchy Foods Have Carbohydrates?

Certain starchy foods (in some cases, people think of them as vegetables, but they are not vegetables) have a similar effect on your body as sugar. Potatoes, corn and rice convert quickly in your body and affect your system much like sugar.

This doesn’t mean to avoid those foods, it just means to balance out your diet. Have a small or medium baked potato rather than a large one, and skip the bread for that meal. Breads, of course, are starches and will affect you much like sugar does.

A medium baked potato has about 37 grams of carbs in it. Of those, two grams are considered ‘sugars,’ but the effect of the potato will be similar to sugar in your body. Since the potato also has four grams of fiber, it is more offset than if you ate a similar amount of low-fiber bread made from bleached, refined flour.

Always go for high-fiber choices wherever you can. The value to your body is huge, and it can help balance your intake of sugar and carbs.

It is important to understand that potatoes, rice and corn are not vegetables. These are high in carbohydrates and should be treated like a serving of bread or pasta.

Other high-carb foods are dried beans and legumes. However, these are high in protein and have a ton of fiber. Therefore, the effect on your body isn’t quite the same as eating a potato or a bowl of pasta. The fiber content helps your body slow down while it processes the carbs in dried beans. And the protein offsets it a bit as well. Just don’t pile a ton of cheese on your refried beans, or load your baked beans with fatty bacon!

Cereal can have a high sugar content

Check the label for sugar content when you buy cereal.
Check the label for sugar content when you buy cereal. | Source

Breakfast Cereals and Carb Content

The big culprit in commercially popular cereals is the sugar content. Check that part of the label, even if the box says it is oh-so-healthy and good for you.

A one-cup serving of Multi-Grain Cheerios has 24 grams of carbohydrates, of which six grams (1-1/2 spoons) are sugar. This is considerably better than the nearly four spoons of sugar you’ll get in a cup of Kellogg’s Apple Jacks.

And just because something says ‘bran’ on the label, don’t assume it is a good bet for healthy eating. Kellogg’s Raisin Bran Crunch (not regular Raisin Bran) has 20 grams of sugar (five spoons) in one serving and only two grams of fiber.

Look for unsweetened cereals that allow you to add whatever sweetener you want, in whatever amount you feel is healthy. If the cereal is whole grain, that’s even better; it will add fiber to your diet.

If you make a few adjustments in your family’s diet, such as cutting out sweetened soft drinks, eating starches in moderation, opting for fresh fruit whenever possible and avoiding cereals laden with sugar, you’ll help protect your loved ones from diabetes and obesity, and you’ll feel better about what you put on the table.

Comments

Submit a Comment
New comments are not being accepted on this article at this time.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Karen - sharp eyes! Thanks for catching that! Some people refer to sugar as having three grams per spoon, and others use four grams, so I got things twisted up a bit here. So glad you found the hub helpful! And thanks, again, for reading and commenting!

  • profile image

    Karen La Fontaine 4 years ago

    Just correcting an error in some calculations...77 grams of sugar is equal to approx 19 teaspoons of sugar, not 40 teaspoons as written... But still a very good eye-opener to society's obesity!!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Letmetellyou - thanks for reading and commenting! I love the little sugar skulls, too - I'm still curious how they were made! They sure send a messages, though, don't they?

  • letmetellyou profile image

    letmetellyou 4 years ago from everywhere

    wow love the sugar skulls lolz. Its so very important that we learn to read labels.. so much of us still don't do it. We often fall into the trap of misinterpreting labels - yes that's another important point. Thanks so much for sharing, I'll be sure to keep a snipet of this somewhere in my kitchen or maybe even introduce it to my personalized kitchen label lens (https://hubpages.com/food/kitchen-labels )

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Melovy! Thanks so much for reading and sharing! People are so shocked when they learn the amount of sugar-laden carbs in soft drinks. No wonder we have out-of-control obesity and diabetes issues today.

  • Melovy profile image

    Yvonne Spence 4 years ago from UK

    This is such a useful article. I love this: "If you wouldn’t eat 10 teaspoons of sugar out of a bowl, why would you drink it out of a can?"

    So many people don't realise how much sugar is some foods, particularly when it is hidden away in packaged foods. I'm an avid label reader, much to the annoyance of my family at times!

    Voted up and tweeted.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Shiningstar - I understand about sugar addiction; I can start overdoing it very easily, too! Thanks for your comments.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Lesley - I'm so glad you enjoyed the hub - thanks for reading and commenting.

  • Shiningstar4u2c profile image

    Shiningstar4u2c 5 years ago from Hilton Head Island

    I have a sugar addiction and I love sweets! Thanks for the very insightful look into the sugar sugar everywhere!

  • Movie Master profile image

    Movie Master 5 years ago from United Kingdom

    Hi Marcy, a very informative and interesting hub thank you, voting up, useful and interesting.

    Best wishes Lesley

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks, Onlooker - I think the soft drink information is the most shocking thing we should know. That alone has created problems for many, many people. I appreciate your comments here!

  • profile image

    onlooker 5 years ago

    Hi Marcy, thank you, this should help me become more aware of my sugar and carbs consumption. I do need to shed some pounds, thanks again =)

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Anupma - I'm glad you enjoyed the hub. The diabetes explosion really concerns me; I think it is far worse than we realize.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks so much for your kind comments, Deepak; I'm glad you found the hub helpful!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    LOL! I'm glad you enjoyed the Sugar Sugar clip from the Archies, Charles. I can't get over the retro cartoon images it has! Thanks for reading and commenting here.

  • anupma profile image

    Dr Anupma Srivastava 5 years ago from India

    Thanks for sharing this informative hub. Many people are suffering from Diabetes, and this will certainly helpful for them.

  • Deepak Chaturvedi profile image

    Deepak Chaturvedi 5 years ago from New Delhi, India

    Good hub and excellent research.shared and voted up!

  • profile image

    Charles Hilton 5 years ago

    Excellent advice, Marcy. I use carbs for energy and in proportion to my level of physical activity. And you left no stone un-turned in mentioning the counter-balancing effects of fiber and protein on sugar.

    Well done! Up, useful and interesting. :)

    Oh and, by the way; thanks for the throwback---the Archies! LOL!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks, teaches12345 - You are right, learning what to do to lose weight is a huge part of succeeding in that goal. I think learning about nutrition is an ongoing process. The food industry changes constantly, and we need to stay on top of those changes. Thank you for reading and commenting.

  • teaches12345 profile image

    Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

    When people hear they have to change their eating habits to lose weight I don't think they realize how carbs affect them and the importance of choosing good carbs. Great topic and one that will help many understand how to make better and balanced meal choices. Love the Archie song, used to sing it often as a kid. Voted up!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks for the suggestion, Ruchira - I will see what I can do about adding information on complex carbs; you're right, they are one of the keys to monitoring your intake. My main focus was on sugar content, but I think it can be expanded when I get a chance to edit the piece.

  • Ruchira profile image

    Ruchira 5 years ago from United States

    Hi Marcy,

    This hub is ideal for this kinda community. Obesity is on the rise 'cause of the above reasons.

    Complex carbs are the key since they take time to digest and thus, help a person avoid to eat more and would be good if you could also add some examples in your hub.

    Great hub...voted way way up and shared!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks, savanahl - your son will benefit from growing up in a healthy environment and learning about these things at such a young age. I appreciate your comments!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Anamika, and for the Tweet! I have had my eyes opened, too. We can cut out many of the real culprits fairly easily.

  • savanahl profile image

    savanahl 5 years ago

    Thank you so much for this useful information. I've been so sick of sugar lately and have been trying to cut some of it out of my diet. After I had my son I wanted to lose some weight so I tried Slimfast. Their drinks and snack bars are so packed full of sugar it's ridiculous. Sure I might lose a couple pounds from drinking just liquids but in return I'll probably get diabetes. Your hub is very useful. I'll definitely bookmark it for further reading.

  • Anamika S profile image

    Anamika S 5 years ago from Mumbai - Maharashtra, India

    This hub was really an eye opener. Voted up and tweeted.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hugs to you, Rolly - and I'm glad you liked the hub. I was floored when I learned the sugar content in soft drinks; I had no idea what we were putting in our bodies.

  • Rolly A Chabot profile image

    Rolly A Chabot 5 years ago from Alberta Canada

    Great hub again and like always packed with information that opens the eye to the hidden... It is rare that I drink Coke but this reminds me to avoid it... maybe I need to try the diet Coke...

    Hugs

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks for reading, homesteadbound - I appreciate your comments!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks, iamaudraleigh - that's what we called it when I grew up, too. That disease runs in my family, which is scary. But at least we're all informed if it and we support and encourage each other to stay healthy. I hope your generation has escaped getting it, Audra. I appreciate your comments!

  • homesteadbound profile image

    Cindy Murdoch 5 years ago from Texas

    This is another winning hub full of information that so many people need to know.

  • profile image

    iamaudraleigh 5 years ago

    This is a very valuable hub!!! My grandfather was diabetic. We called his disease "Sugar". Thank you for informing everyone!!! Voted up!

    ps...I like the video "Sugar Sugar"!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks, Ardie - I can relate to the diabetes issue - it affects my family quite a bit, and our dad died from complications of it. I may do a hub on that sometime (you should do one on the gestational diabetes issue!). Thank you for your comments!

  • Ardie profile image

    Sondra 5 years ago from Neverland

    I love this Hub - just because something seems healthy does NOT mean that it is. I had gestational diabetes with my babies and I learned real fast how to spot the hidden sugars. They're everywhere...people who think corn is healthy and they can eat as much as they want? Nope, try again. This is invaluable info Marcy - I love that you're sharing it with everyone :)

Click to Rate This Article