Consuming calories in the form of sugar may be something you haven’t thought about much before, so  understanding more about foods that contain sugar may help you overcome some of your biggest  challenges when it comes to weight loss. Sugar is everywhere, and it seems it might  be far  too big a part of our regular food intake Listed below is a complete guide on the calories in sugar and why you should care about how much you ingest.

What is a Calorie?

The definition of a calorie could be  long and detailed, but this is what you need to know: a calorie is the amount of heat it takes to increase the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius. If you are someone who enjoys chemistry and history, you might be interested to know that one calorie is equivalent to 4.18 joules, which is most commonly used measurement for the energy in food in  other countries.

When you travel outside of the U.S. to countries that use the metric system, you may find that food labels have information in kilojoules or kilocalories (Kcal). In the U.S., food labels use calories to measure the total energy being consumed. Although U.S. food labels tend to use the term calorie, they’re really giving the number of  kilocalories, which is the equivalent of 1,000 calories.

Whenever you consume something that has calories, you’re providing your body with “fuel.” Technically, however, the calories you ingest are a result of a chemical reaction in your body. Consuming food (and the calories associated with it) results in  a certain amount of  heat your body gives off in response to that particular food.  Think of it this way: something with 1,000 calories will cause your body to heat up five times more than a food that contains 200 calories, and the more calories you consume means you are likely to increase your chances of weight gain. Foods that contain fats, proteins, and carbohydrates contain calories because they are the only substances (other than alcohol) that cause chemical reactions in the body as a result of digesting them.

Now that you have a bit of information on what a calorie is, its equivalent  in other countries, and how it is affected by what you eat, you might think, “who cares?” Let’s take a closer look into why you should care about calories and how sugar intake plays a key role with how many calories you take in.

Why Should You Care About Calories and Sugar Intake?

Calories are one common way to measure your dietary intake, especially if you are on a weight loss program. Much of the standard adult diet is based off your total caloric intake. For example, the U.S. dietary guidelines use your total caloric intake as a way to calculate the total percentage of nutrients required each day. This means that if someone told you to consume no more than 30 percent of your total daily intake from fats, then you should be able to take the calories you eat and calculate how many fat grams to consume each day.

Weight loss and management programs are often widely dependent on daily calories as well. Many  weight loss programs suggest that you should aim for a certain calorie goal as a way to reach your goals, and usually this requires a reduced caloric intake. This is very important when you are aiming to lose those extra pounds, but recent research show  that watching your total sugar intake may play a bigger role in weight loss than the diets themselves. Studies have shown that beverages that are loaded with added sugars are associated with increased obesity among adults and children. Paying attention your total caloric intake is important, but it seems that watching your total sugar intake (and calories from sugar) is even more important.

Measuring Sugar

Now that you have an idea of what watching how much sugar you eat each day can do for weight management, consider some of the ways that sugar is measured. Here are some  suggestions to guide how much sugar you are consuming as a way to boost your healthy lifestyle.

Read Labels

One of the first and easiest ways to measure sugar is to simply look at food labels. It’s federally mandated that manufacturers need to list how much sugar is in food, so this is the simplest way to determine how much sugar you are consuming.

Get Informed

For foods that don’t have a label, educate yourself on sugar content. This means that if you eat a banana, you should know how much sugar you just consumed (FYI: a banana contains 12 grams of sugar). Read our article on other names for sugar to become more familiar with the grams of sugar in various foods.

Added Sugars vs Natural

Let’s say you eat that banana and it has 12 grams of sugar. It’s important to differentiate between sugars that are naturally occurring in food, like in that banana, and those that are added to foods. How do you know when it’s been added? Look at the food label.  If the  label states there are sugars in your food and the ingredient list has no mention of sugar (or one of the dozens of names it may show up as), then the sugar in that food should be naturally occurring. In contrast, if sugar is listed in the ingredients, then this food contains added sugars. For a comparison between these two sources, refer to our complete guide on natural vs added sugar.

How Many Calories are in Sugar?

Sugar is a nutrient that the body and especially the brain uses to provide energy for daily functions. However, the standard adult diet tends to be overloaded with sugar, which can lead to obesity and weight gain. Consider the total amount of sugar based off various foods and measurement options below.

SourceSugar GramsCalories From Sugar
1 gram sugar14
1 teaspoon sugar416
1 tablespoon sugar1248
¼  cup sugar55220
12-ounce soda36144
One cup blueberries1560
One cup of milk1352

How Much Sugar Should I Eat Each Day?

The World Health Organization and the American Heart Association recommend that women limit sugar intake to  25 grams or less and men limit it to 36 grams or less. If you view the chart above, you can  see that it’s easy to  surpass this amount with one 12-ounce soda. With this in mind, it is important to stray from all sources of sugars as a way to avoid empty calories each day and to prevent cravings. In addition, sugar substitutes and artificial sweeteners may not be good options as a way to cut back the amount of sugar you consume, since these products may increase your affinity towards sugar and cause you to overeat.

Bottom Line

Having a thorough understanding of what makes up your sugar calories is vital for your health and for watching your weight. One of the biggest areas of concern for adults on a weight loss program is the total daily intake of  calories from sugar, which can be calculated by carefully tracking what you eat. Sugar can be measured in a number of ways,  with grams and teaspoons as  the most common  units of measure. The chart listed above is a quick reference for you to get an idea of how much sugar  foods contain as well as what that means in terms of calories. Educating yourself on sugar is one of the most important things you can do to lead a healthier lifestyle .