How Many Calories & Carbohydrates Are There in Sugar?

All it takes is a short walk down the grocery store aisle to realize that sugar is everywhere! From obvious foods like soft drinks and cookies to more sneaky items like pasta sauce and peanut butter, you'd be amazed by how many things contained added or refined sugars. Monitoring your intake of this omnipresent ingredient is the key to controlling the number of carbohydrates and calories you eat on a daily basis.

Sugar has no nutritional benefits but it sure does taste good! (Image: Michelle Patrick / EyeEm/EyeEm/GettyImages)


Each tablespoon of granulated sugar contains 49 calories and 13 grams of carbohydrates.

Nutritional Value of Sugar

In just one tablespoon of granulated sugar, there are 49 calories and 13 grams of carbohydrates. This works out to about 4 calories per gram of sugar listed on a food's nutrition label.

The American Heart Association recommends limiting your refined sugar intake to 36 grams or 150 calories for males and 25 grams or 100 calories for females. These guidelines would obviously change for individuals on low-carb or keto-style diets and for people with diabetes who are monitoring their blood sugar levels.

Fruits contain simple sugar, one type of carbohydrate. (Image: Rouzes/iStock/GettyImages)

Are Sugars and Carbohydrates the Same Thing?

While they're commonly used interchangeably, sugars and carbs are not quite the same. Carbohydrates are the body's main source of energy and make up an important part of a well-balanced diet. There are three types of carbs: sugar, starch and fiber. The sugar group itself can be further broken down into simple and complex varieties.

Simple sugars come from healthier foods like fruits and from less nutritional items like candy or juice. This type of carb is quickly broken down by the body, causing your blood sugars to rapidly rise after you eat. Complex sugars, which are found in foods like whole grain bread and brown rice, are digested more slowly and lead to smaller spikes in your blood sugar levels.

How Many Carbohydrates Should You Eat Per Day?

In general, 45 to 65 percent of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates. The majority of these carbs should come from natural sources like fruit, vegetables, whole grains, milk and nuts. Avoid processed or refined foods with added sugar, including items like fruit juice, sports drinks, granola, canned fruits and many kinds of breakfast cereal.

Brown sugar really isn't any better for you than white sugar. (Image: vm2002/iStock/GettyImages)

Is Brown Sugar Better Than White Sugar?

While some claim that raw or brown sugar is healthier than white sugar, this claim is largely false. While these sugars contain molasses and thus have small amounts of nutrients like calcium, magnesium and iron, they're still almost equivalent to white sugar nutritionally. Because of this, each type should be consumed sparingly in accordance with the guidelines outlined above.

Which Sugar Substitute Is Best?

Artificial sweeteners, which add sweetness to food without increasing the overall calorie content, have become more commonplace lately. These sweeteners can be marketed under a variety of brand names and usually contain the ingredients stevia, sucralose, aspartame, acesulfame or neotame.

While they can be useful for people watching their weight or for individuals with diabetes, they're not a cure-all. By in large, foods containing these substitutes are usually not as nutritious as foods containing more naturally occurring sugars.

In addition, there's some evidence that regular consumption of artificial sweeteners can be addictive and that their extreme sweetness may cause you to actually lose your taste for less sweet, more naturally occurring sugars.

Some sugar substitutes may also lead to gastrointestinal issues if consumed in larger quantities. If you have questions about incorporating these ingredients into a well-rounded diet, be sure to speak to your doctor or to a registered dietician.

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