- Brian Bender, PhD
How to Track Sugar Intake - An Easy Step-by-Step Guide
This step-by-step guide, part of our series on nutrition tracking, will teach you how to track your dietary sugar intake.
Experts agree that sugar consumption in America, and increasingly around the world, is too high. Knowing how to track sugar intake can help you learn how much hidden sugar is actually in your food, help you better understand your own eating habits, and help you cut back your sugar intake.
But how do you track sugar intake? Especially for home-cooked meals? And how do you track sugar intake over time?
This step-by-step guide walks you through this process to show you how to track sugar intake from your diet. It essentially comes down to two primary questions: What is the quantity of sugar in the food you ate, and how much of it did you eat?
Step 1: Identify the individual food items in your meal.
If the food is pre-packaged, with a nutrition label, skip this step. But, if you prepared your meal from a recipe (like the ingredients below from a delicious recipe for Sardinian-style sweet and sour zucchini), make note of each food item in the meal. Either on paper, or using a spreadsheet like Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel, list each item in the first column under the heading title like, Ingredients.
Identify all food items in your meal - or - Skip this Step with Intake
Step 2: Calculate the quantity of each serving of foods with nutrition labels.
If the food is pre-packaged, look at the nutrition label. You will see “serving size,” and “servings per container.” First, convert units from the recipe to the same as the serving size units if they are different. Then, take how much (quantity) of each ingredient is present in the recipe and divide that by the serving size. Save that answer as the number of servings per recipe. You will multiply the amount of sugar by this answer to determine how much of it is in the recipe. Although olive oil has zero grams of sugar, the following image demonstrates how you would calculate this value for each pre-packaged item.
Calculate serving sizes using nutrition labels - or - Skip this Step with Intake
Step 3: Navigate to the USDA Food Search tool for fresh food item.
For fresh foods without a nutrition label, navigate to the USDA Food Search tool at https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list.
Navigate to USDA Food Search tool - or - Skip this Step with Intake
Step 4: Search for each food item.
Edit Select Source for Standard Reference, and enter the name of a food item into Enter one or more terms**.
Find the food item description that best fits your food. For fresh fruits and vegetables, often the term includes “, raw.” Click on that food item.
Search for each food item - or - Skip this Step with Intake
Step 5: Search for and modify the quantity of the item to match your recipe.
Scroll horizontally in the table to find the quantity that best matches your recipe. To modify the column, enter a value into the serving size box and hit Enter.
Search and modify food item quantity - or - Skip this Step with Intake
Step 6: Identify and record the quantity of sugar.
Match the value in the column for your desired quantity with the row for total __sugars.
Identify sugar content - or - Skip this Step with Intake
Step 7: Record this value for each food item in the recipe.
Record this value for each food item in the recipe, and repeat this cycle for each food item.
Record the sugar content for each food item - or - Skip this Step with Intake
Step 8: Sum the sugar content of each value.
Sum each sugar value in the column by adding together the values for each food item. In my example, the sum of all sugar in this recipe is equal to 14.7 + 0 + 0 + 12.57 = 27.27 grams of sugar.
Sum sugar value for each food item - or - Skip this Step with Intake
Step 9: Convert total sugar quantity into calories.
To convert sugar into calories, multiply the sum by 4. This is the amount of calories in a gram of sugar. This product equals the total amount of calories in the recipe derived from sugar. In this case, the total caloric content in this dish derived from sugar is roughly 109.08 calories.
Convert total grams of sugar into calories - or - Skip this Step with Intake
Step 10: Estimate your consumption.
Next, estimate how much you consumed as a decimal. If you ate the entire dish, it is an easy 1. If you ate half, you would have consumed 0.5 of the dish. One quarter? 0.25. And so on.
Multiply this decimal by total grams, and total calories, of sugar. These values provide the total amount of sugar, and calories derived from sugar, you consumed from this meal.
And doing the same for only the sugar ingredient provides a number for the total amount of Added Sugars.
Estimate your consumption - or - Skip this Step with Intake
And That’s It!
You now know how to track sugar intake and understand how to monitor and gauge your eating habits.
If you want to track sugar intake over time, repeat this process for each snack and meal you consume throughout the day. This technique can help you lose weight, it can help you ensure you are eating a balanced diet, and it can help you meet your athletic goals.