Added sugars – a bad gut feeling!

By Deborah Gerszberg, RD, CNSC, CDN
Clinical Nutritionist, Division of Digestive Diseases

Did you know that May is Digestive Disease Awareness Month? Help reduce your risk for developing a digestive disorder by following a healthy diet! A diet high in added sugars is often low in fiber which may increase risk for chronic disease, including a variety of digestive diseases.

What are added sugars?

Added sugars include any caloric sweetener that is added to a food or drink during processing that is otherwise not naturally occurring. This does not include sugars which are naturally occurring such as those found in fruit and milk.

According to the new Dietary Guidelines, added sugars should be limited to

The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars even more:  about 2 tablespoons per day for women and 3 tablespoons per day for men. 

Since there is convincing evidence that eating patterns with limited amounts of added sugars are associated with a lower risk for cardiovascular disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and even certain types of cancer, it would be beneficial to limit added sugars as best as possible.

How much sugar do Americans actually consume?

As Americans, on average we consume 13% of our calories in the form of added sugars (9-18 year olds consume a whopping 17% of their diets from added sugars)! Nearly half of the added sugars we consume are from sweetened beverages and a third is from snacks and sweet treats. 

Where are the hidden added sugars, how can I avoid those?

If you don’t drink sweetened beverages or have a sweet tooth, you may think you have nothing to worry about as this would effectively eliminate most of the added sugars in a standard Americans diet (SAD). However added sugars are hidden in some foods that are commonly thought of as healthy.

By choosing healthier alternatives, you can further reduce the amount of added sugars in your diet (Table 1). Instead of using added sugars to sweeten foods like plain yogurt or plain oats, try using fruit such as ½ cup blueberries or ½ banana.

Table 1. “Healthy” foods with hidden sugars and their alternatives 

To best avoid added sugars in your diet, read the food ingredient list and avoid foods with the following in the first 3 ingredients:
  • Sugar (including unrefined, cane, beet, brown, raw, coconut, date, or other)
  • Syrup (fructose, corn, maple, rice, barley, tapioca or other)
  • Molasses
  • Honey
  • Dehydrated juice or cane juice

In the spirit of Digestive Disease Awareness Day (May 29th), I challenge you to a day of no added sugars – that’s just one day of avoiding all sugars that are not naturally occurring! Sweeten your yogurt or oatmeal with fresh fruit, cinnamon, and vanilla. Have fruit for dessert rather than baked goods.

Try my kids’ favorite sugar free dessert (this is requested almost every night in my house!):

Banana Chocolate Ice Cream

Serves 2


  • 1 frozen banana
  • 2 tablespoons almond butter
  • 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder


  1. Blend in food processor until smooth and creamy.  Freeze for additional hour if necessary.

Please comment and share your experience with going added sugar free for one day!