Little by little, Americans are eating a healthier diet. According to a recent study led by the Department of Nutrition at Harvard, Americans are consuming higher intakes of high-quality carbohydrates ­– such as whole grains –, plant proteins, and unsaturated fats; and lower intakes of added sugars.

However, added sugars remain somewhat confusing: only one in 10 Americans are aware of hidden sugars in their food. The main cause is a lack of nutrition education to safely navigate their way through the minefield of unhealthy food products at the grocery store.

Some added sugars are pretty obvious, like jams and jellies, table sugar, honey, and syrup. Then there’s the 39 gallons of sugary soft drinks that the average American consumes every year. Other overt sugar sources include treats like cakes and cookies, candies, and frozen desserts.

What Are Hidden Sugars?

Hidden sugar refers to added sugars in foods that you may not notice, often because the foods are not obviously sweet.

Nearly a quarter of the sugar we eat is hidden away in processed foods. For example, a serving of pasta sauce could harbor nearly five teaspoons of sugar. And 80 percent of the calories in some popular ketchup varieties come from sugar. Sugar is often found in everything, from soups to salad dressings.

Five Ways to Reduce Sugar Intake

The empty calories from added sugars can lead to weight gain and spikes in blood glucose levels. The good news is that cutting down on sugar may be easier than you think:

1. Read nutrition labels.

Take note of foods with high amounts of sucrose, glucose, dextrose, lactose, maltose, brown rice syrup, fruit juice concentrate, corn syrup, molasses, and the other forms of sugar added to foods. On the flip side, be aware that some sugars naturally occur in foods. The lactose in milk and the fructose in fruit, for example, will show up on the nutrition facts panel as “sugar” even though no sugar is added.

2. Use natural sweeteners.

Many foods that come pre-sweetened, like cereals, yogurt, salad dressings, or alternative milks (rice, hemp, soy, etc.), have surprising amounts of sugar, so you might want to try the unsweetened version. To cut sugar even further, try sweetening cereal with a sliced banana or a handful of berries.

And here’s another trick: try dropping a whole date or a few raisins and a few drops of vanilla extract into a carton of unsweetened milk. It adds lots of flavor with just a trace of sugar.

3. Enjoy naturally sweet flavors.

Fruits are a preferable substitute for sugary desserts. Sweet spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, or clove can add sweet notes to fruits, cereals or yogurt in place of sugar.

4. Cut back on liquid sugar.

Cut back on soft drinks, sweetened coffee and tea drinks, and fruity drinks like lemonade. Instead, try flavorful teas, or add some citrus peel or a slice of fruit to water for a calorie-free beverage.

5. Visualize sugar intake.

Every four grams of sugar that are listed on the nutrition facts panel is equal to a teaspoon of sugar—or about one sugar cube. So next time you’re at the grocery store looking for a cold drink, review the nutrition label and visualize how many sugar cubes you’d be consuming.

Susan Bowerman

Susan BowermanM.S., R.D., CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Sr. Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training

Susan Bowerman is the senior director of Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training at Herbalife. She also serves as the Vice Chair of the Dietetic Advisory Board (DAB). As a registered dietitian, she educates distributors about our global nutrition philosophy and is responsible for developing nutrition education and training materials. Bowerman earned a B.S. in Biology with distinction from the University of Colorado and an M.S. in Food Science and Nutrition from Colorado State University. She is a fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and holds two board certifications as a specialist in Sports Dietetics and in Obesity and Weight Management. When she is not busy teaching and writing, Susan enjoys spending time with her family, cooking and gardening. Her favorite Herbalife products include Simply Probiotic and Herbalife Formula 1 Healthy Meal Nutritional Shake Mix Banana Caramel.