The Milky Way Index: How Much Sugar Is In Your Food?This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure.
The husband was drinking a glass of orange juice a few days ago when he turned to me and asked “Is juice bad for you?”
I said, “Yeah, it is – because it’s basically full of sugar.”
And he said, “What do you mean ‘full of sugar?'”
And the nutritionist in me started listing facts: “Well, the average man is only supposed to eat 36g of added sugar a day. And that juice has 28g of sugar for an 8oz glass, and you’re drinking a 12oz glass, so that means you’ve basically eaten more than the amount of added sugar you should have for the entire day by drinking 1 glass of juice.”
And the husband said… “huh?” “That doesn’t mean anything to me.” “Explain it to me in a way I can understand it.”
So I said: “Ok. Drinking that glass of juice is like eating a regular sized Snickers Bar. Or Milky Way Bar. Or just about any candy bar.”
And he said…
Not really 🙂 But a lightbulb did go off in both of our heads. He said “Oh wow, I get it now, that is crazy! More people should know that. You should write a post about this.”
And that’s how the Milky Way Index was born.
Why Milky Ways? Because they are the husband’s favorite candy of all time.
And what is the Milky Way Index? It is your guide to understanding how much sugar is in the foods you might eat on a daily basis. A lot of these foods are marketed as “healthy,” or “natural,” but they’re actually secret sugar delivery mechanisms to your body. You could be deceived into eating a lot more sugar than you might realize thanks to the marketing machines of major food companies.
Inspired by the “Big Mac Index,” (which is a guide to help people understand if currencies are at the right level) this Milky Way Index will show you: for the top 20 food sources of hidden sugar – what that one food item equals in Fun Size Milky Way Bars.
Everyone knows that you probably shouldn’t be having 4-6 Fun Size Milky Way Bars a day, but did you know you could be getting the equivalent of that by having a Grilled Cheese Sandwich on Wheat Bread with Ketchup and a small container of Strawberry Yogurt on the side?
The Milky Way Index
For this Index, I’m using the “Fun Size” Milky Way Bar which has the following stats: 80 calories, 3g fat, and 10.5g Sugar. For the nutritional nerds, 1 Fun Size Milky Way Bar has 2.5 Teaspoons of Sugar. According to the American Heart Association, Men shouldn’t eat more than 36g or 9 teaspoons of added sugar a day (3.5 Fun Size Milky Way Bars); Women should stay below 25g or 6 teaspoons of added sugar / day (2.5 Fun Size Milky Way Bars).
#1 | Soda. Let’s start with an obvious offender. We all know that soda has a lot of sugar. But did you know that 1 small 12oz can has 39g of sugar? That’s literally almost 4 Fun Sized Milky Ways. There’s no way around it: Don’t drink soda.
#2 | Canned Fruit in Syrup. Some canned fruit can be ok (if they are packed in water). But the sneaky ones packed in syrup can have up to 30-35g of sugar for 1 cup of fruit! That’s about 3.5 Fun Sized Milky Ways. Choose fresh fruit instead of canned!
#3 | Iced Tea. Hot tea (no sugar) is healthy. And iced tea that you make at home (without adding sugar) is also healthy. But pre-packaged iced teas have more sugar than tea in them. Snapple’s “All Natural” Lemon Tea has 36g Sugar for a 16oz bottle. That’s about 3.5 Fun Sized Milky Ways. The alternative? Make your own iced tea using fresh lemon and no sugar.
#4 | Fruit Juice. Fruit juices are often made from fruit concentrates, which aren’t always good for you. Concentrates do contain actual fruit juice, but often in the concentration process the fruit flavor becomes bland, so sugar is added to make it sweet. 1 8oz glass can contain 28g of sugar. That’s basically 3 Fun Sized Milky Ways. Instead of drinking juice, try infusing water with fresh fruit (cut up the fruit and add it to a pitcher of water and let is soak for a few hours). Or make your own fresh squeezed juices or smoothies at home!
#5 | Protein Bars. Usually marketed as a great “post workout snack,” most protein bars are super processed and have tons of sugar added to them. 1 bar can have anywhere between 25-35g of sugar! That’s about 3 Fun Sized Milky Ways. Instead of a protein bar, try Greek Yogurt with fruit, nut butters on sprouted wheat bread, or make a smoothie using a low sugar organic protein powder like Amazing Meal or SunWarrior.
#6 | Dried Fruit. With all the water taken out, dried fruit has way more sugar by volume than fresh fruits. But on top of that, some fruit (like cranberries) are actually sour, and so tons of sugar is added to the dried version to make them taste sweet. 1/4 cup of dried cranberries has 29g sugar. That’s about 3 Fun Sized Milky Ways. Instead of dried fruit, eat fresh fruit. You’ll stay fuller longer and you won’t end up eating all of that extra added sugar.
#7 | Mixed Drinks. Alcohol is pure sugar. But beer and wine have way less sugar than mixed drinks you’d get at a bar. A 4oz Pina Colada has 28g of added sugar, equal to about 3 Fun Sized Milky Ways. Avoid mixed drinks and stick to one glass of beer or wine instead.
#8 | Flavored Yogurt. This is one of the sneaker ones – because everyone knows yogurt is healthy right? The problem is all of the flavored varieties – which can be so sweet they taste like dessert! That’s because, they basically are. One 6-8oz serving of flavored yogurt can have between 18-30g of sugar. We’ll call that about 2.5 Fun Sized Milky Ways. Instead of getting flavored yogurt, get plain low-fat Greek Yogurt and add your own fruit (or fruit purees) to it!
#9 | Energy Drinks. So many people use energy drinks to get an extra boost mid-day or to stay awake if they’re up late. Energy drinks are basically caffeine and sugar. One 8oz Red Bull has 26g of sugar. That’s 2.5 Fun Sized Milky Ways. Avoid energy drinks and if you really need caffeine, drink a cup of coffee with 1-2 tbsp of milk.
#10 | Instant Flavored Oatmeal. This is one of those food products that seems healthy and is marketed to kids, but has tons of sugar in it. One packet of flavored oatmeal (even the healthy-sounding flavors like “Maple and Brown Sugar”) has between 10-15g sugar per packet. That’s about 1.5 Fun Sized Milky Ways. Instead of the flavored oatmeals, use plain rolled oats and mix in fruit like berries and bananas, nuts/nut butters, and milk to give it flavor.
#11 | Granola. Another food product that sounds healthy, but isn’t. 1/2 a cup can have between 10-15g sugar. That’s about 1.5 Fun Sized Milky Ways. Avoid granola and stick to whole grain high fiber / low sugar cereals instead.
#12 | Kids’ Cereal. All cereal marketed to kids is swimming in sugar. Most of these brands have very little nutrients and are basically refined carbs, sugar and artificial coloring. Even the healthy sounding ones like “Honey Nut Cheerios” have 12g sugar for 1 cup of cereal. Most of these cereals run between 10-15g sugar for 3/4 of a cup – about 1.5 Fun Sized Milky Ways.
#13 | Condensed/Canned Tomato Soup. Why is there added sugar to tomato soup? No idea. All I can tell you is that 1/2 cup of Condensed Tomato Soup has 12g sugar. That’s 1 and 1/4 Fun Sized Milky Ways. Instead of buying canned soup, make your own tomato soup at home. It’s super easy and tastes way better!
#14 | Barbecue Sauce. Would you believe that only 2 Tbsp of some popular BBQ Sauce brands have 13g of Sugar? That’s about 1 and 1/4 of a Fun Size Milky Way. Sugar in BBQ sauce can add up fast because most people use more than 2 Tbsp on their food. There are some BBQ sauce brands out there without added sugar (or with very little added sugar) – so look for those or make your own at home!
#15 | Honey Wheat Bread. Sounds healthy right? But 2 slices of honey wheat bread have 10g sugar, equal to 1 Fun Size Milky Way. Don’t be fooled by all of the “wheat breads” on the grocery store shelves. They’re usually pretty processed and not much better than white bread. Many of them have added sugar (for no reason – sugar shouldn’t really be an ingredient in bread). Instead, choose sprouted wheat bread – like this one from my favorite brand: Ezekiel.
#16 | Pasta Sauce. There are some pasta sauces out there without added sugar, but many brands will have between 6-12g of added sugar for every 1/2 cup serving, which is about 1 Fun Sized Milky Way. The key to avoiding sugar here is label reading – look to see if “sugar” is one of the ingredients listed on the label. If not, then you are good to go!
#17 | Granola Bars. Another “healthy” sounding snack, which can have between 8-13g of sugar for just one bar! That’s equal to one Fun Sized Milky Way. There’s no good alternative to granola bars – so eat them sparingly or make your own at home!
#18 | Salad Dressing. Most pre-made salad dressings like “Raspberry Vineagrette,” “French Dressing,” and “Catalina Dressing” can have up to 10g of sugar for 2 Tbsp. It’s best to make your own salad dressing – it is super easy. I just mix extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and garlic and it tastes great (and has no sugar in it!)
#19 | Ketchup. At about 4g sugar per 1 Tbsp of Ketchup, that gives your burger a minor sugar boost when you’re eating it. That’s only 1/2 of a Fun Sized Milky Way, but something to keep in mind if you are a fan of piling on the ketchup when eating fries, burgers, etc.
#20 | Coffee Creamer. Didn’t you think coffee creamer was cream? It’s actually water mixed with syrup with cream as one of the farther-down-the-list ingredients. 1 Tbsp has 5g sugar – 1/2 of a Fun Sized Milky Way. Instead, just add regular cream to your coffee!
So there you have it. The Top 20 biggest offenders when it comes to hidden sugars in packaged foods. Everyone knows that candy bars (like a Milky Way) aren’t healthy – that they’re supposed to be eaten sparingly, as an occasional treat. But most people don’t think of the popular brands of bread, cereal, oatmeal and juice in the same way – but they are! Not all brands add sugar to their food products, but most of the “big” brands: Kraft, Nestle, Heinz, Kelloggs, Yoplait, Pepperidge Farm, etc. do. So the key is to read food labels and look for the word “sugar” on the ingredients list, and look at the grams of sugar on the nutrition label.
And remember if you’re a woman – you get 6 tsp / 25g or 2.5 Fun Sized Milky Way Bars a day of added sugar; and men get 9 tsp / 36g or 3.5 Fun Sized Milky Way Bars per day of added sugar. I hope this post was helpful in deciphering food labels and finding the hidden sugar in your food! And the next time you pick up that glass of juice, or box of cereal, or granola bar, ask yourself: is this how you want to “spend” your Milky Ways for the day? 🙂