The U.S. government thinks you’re sweet enough. In fact, earlier this year, the USDA issued guidelines recommending that Americans keep their consumption of added sugars low—to no more than 10 percent of overall calories, or about 180 calories a day for women following an 1,800-calorie diet and 200 for men following a 2,000-calorie diet. This was a huge deal because it was the first time the USDA stepped up to say what the limit on sugar should be.
Their guidelines translate to about 45 grams of sugar a day, tops, or about 11 teaspoons. But organizations from the American Heart Association to the World Health Organization recommend cutting that number further; they say no more than 25 grams of added sugar a day (about six teaspoons) is best for optimal health.
Think 11 teaspoons of sugar a day sounds like a lot? Well, it is. But you’ll be surprised how easy it is to eat that much; in fact, the average American woman consumes about 25 teaspoons (100 grams!) of sugar a day, or about 125 Jelly Belly beans a day.
But if you’re not popping jelly beans or chugging high-fructose corn syrup, where are all those sugar calories coming from? Surprisingly, a lot come from foods you’d never think of as “sugary.” Here’s our list of surprising foods with more sugar than the USDA allows in a day, compliments of the new book Zero Sugar Diet: The 14-Day Plan to Flatten Your Belly, Crush Cravings, and Help Keep You Lean for Life, ranked from crazy bad to insanely bad. And if any of these dishes makes your mouth water, consider checking out these tips on 30 Ways to Eat More But Weigh Less!
Quizno’s Apple Harvest Chicken Salad with Acai Vinaigrette
Nutrition: 540 calories, 28 g fat (5 saturated fat), 910 mg sodium, 52 g carbs (7 g fiber, 39 g sugar), 26 g protein
Studies have found that people who perceive not-so-wholesome meals as “healthy” will tend to eat 35 percent more of the meal than if they thought of it as a regular food. That’s particularly bad news because Quiznos has marketed this salad with a bunch of these health food buzzwords: “apple” and “acai” to name but a few. Brace yourself for the truth: This dish actually has more calories than a Big Mac and more than a day’s worth of sugar. Yes, seriously!
Bob Evans Cranberry Pecan Chicken Salad
Nutrition (served with ramekin of Colonial dressing and dinner roll): 1,360 calories, 78 g fat (21 g saturated fat), 2,590 mg sodium, 105 g carbs (11 g fiber, 42 g sugar), 64 g protein
This whole salad has more sugar than you’ll find in a piece of cranberry pecan pie!
California Pizza Kitchen Three Thai Chicken Spring Rolls With Peanut Sauce
Nutrition: 1,320 calories, 63 g fat (18 g saturated fat), 3,750 mg sodium, 132 g carbs (9 g fiber, 42 g sugar), 57 g protein
You knew you’d be getting a hearty helping of fat when it came time to order this deep-fried platter, but we bet you’d never guess you’d also be getting nearly as much sugar as 11 Sugar Raised Dunkin Donuts! Even splitting it among three people leaves you with the same amount of sweet stuff that you’d find in a bowl of Reese’s Puffs cereal.
Au Bon Pain Strawberry Banana Yogurt Smoothie
Nutrition (one size, 16 oz): 240 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 35 mg sodium, 56 g carbs (4 g fiber, 46 g sugar), 6 g protein
Calling this a “smoothie” lends the aura of good health. However, this small smoothie has more sugar than what you’d find in half a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Mint Chocolate Cookie ice cream!
O’Charley’s Chipotle Chicken Tenders
Nutrition: 1,160 calories, 40 g fat (8 g saturated fat), 2,230 mg sodium, 107 g carbs (13 g fiber, 47 g sugar), 80 g protein
Your love of Chipotle shouldn’t lead you to make bad choices. One of which, may be ordering this extremely sweet—and just as salty—appetizer from O’Charley’s.
Red Robin’s Red’s Bold Boneless Wings with Banzai Sauce, Large
Nutrition: 1,270 calories, 55 g fat (11a g saturated fat), 4,270 mg sodium, 137 g carbs (19 g fiber, 46 g sugar), 56 g protein
At Red Robin, “Banzai” is code for “sugar.” The same appetizer coated in Buzzard Sauce has just 3 grams of sugar.
Sonic Asian Sweet Chili Boneless Wings, 12 Piece
Nutrition: 1,110 calories, 32 g fat (8 g saturated fat), 4,130 mg sodium, 123 g carbs (5 g fiber, 49 g sugar), 60 g protein
Don’t be fooled by the fact that there’s chili in these wings. The hot spice is known to boost your metabolism, but it won’t get the chance to do it job when it’s drained in as much fat, sodium, and sugar as what’s found in these wings.
Perkins Lemon Blueberry Pie Pancakes Platter
Nutrition: 1,060 calories, 50 g fat (17 g saturated fat), 2,220 mg sodium, 116 g carbs (1 g fiber, 50 g sugar), 36 g protein
The second set of pancakes to top our list hails from all-day-breakfast restaurant, Perkins. These flapjacks have more sugar than 92 M&M’s—and no, that’s not a typo. You can thank the heaping pile of lemon meringue pie filling, powdered sugar and whipped topping for the all-day sugar buzz.
Sonic Handmade Onion Rings, Family Size
Nutrition: 1,610 calories, 79 g fat (14 g saturated, 1.5 g trans), 1,580 mg sodium, 202 g carbs (10 g fiber, 51 g sugar), 23 g protein
Okay, it is “family size,” so for sure you’ll be sharing. But even if you’re a family of four, you’re still getting as much sugar from a small portion of rings as you’d get from a Little Debbie Doughnut Stick.
Applebee’s Honey BBQ Boneless Wings with Ranch
Nutrition (served with ranch dressing): 1,120 calories, 57 g fat (10.5 g saturated fat), 3,100 mg sodium, 108 g carbs (7 g fiber, 51 g sugar), 41 g protein
Yes, honey is an added sugar, no matter what Winnie the Pooh says. In fact, 51 grams of the sugar in this platter comes from the sauce.
California Pizza Kitchen Waldorf Chicken Salad
Nutrition: 1,320 calories, 94 g fat (22 g saturated fat), 2,020 mg sodium, 75 g carbs (10 g fiber, 55 g sugar), 54 g protein
It sure sounds like the picture of good health—a salad of fresh apples, grapes, celery, walnuts, and blue cheese—but be cautious. The extra large portion combined with a sugary dressing means that you’ll be taking in too much sugar for a single sitting.
Pizza Hut Wingstreet 8 Pc Honey BBQ Bone-In Wings
Nutrition (with side of ranch): 1,160 calories, 60 g fat (13 g saturated fat), 2,460 mg sodium, 83 g carbs (2 g fiber, 61 g sugar), 74 g protein
The culprit here isn’t the bird itself, but Pizza Hut’s Honey BBQ sauce—which is really just a fancy name for a viscous pool of brown sugar. Next time a craving strikes—and you’re looking for something hot but still sweet—keep your diabetes risk in check by ordering the Sweet Buffalo. This simple, slimming swap will save you 34 grams of sugar.
IHOP Cupcake Pancakes
Nutrition: 790 calories, 22 g fat (12 g saturated fat), 1,810 mg sodium, 132 g carbs (4 g fiber, 61 g sugar), 16 g protein
Fill IHOP’s signature buttermilk pancakes with rainbow sprinkles, top with cupcake icing, more rainbow sprinkles, and whipped topping and you literally get dessert for breakfast.
Buffalo Wild Wings Asian Zing Boneless Wings, Large
Nutrition: 2,380 calories, 102 g fat (40 g saturated fat, 4 g trans fats), 6,750 mg sodium, 284 g carbs (16 g fiber, 67 g sugar), 67 g protein
Sure a large (around 20 wings) may seem like a lot, but even the medium (15 wings) will fill you up with 50 grams of sugar in this sauce described as “Sweet meets heat: A chili pepper, soy and ginger sauce.” Judging by the nutrition, the two flavors met, and sweet just ran right by and claimed these wings as its own.
Applebee’s Crunchy Onion Rings
Nutrition: 1,300 calories, 59 g fat (10 g saturated fat, 0.5 g trans fat), 3,360 mg sodium, 176 g carbs (8 g fiber, 65 g sugar),15 g protein
You’ll find this item on Applebee’s new 2 for $20 menu, where you pick an appetitizer to share and each get an entree. Even if you split this appetizer, you’d still guzzle down just 6 grams shy of nearly an entire 12-ounce Coca Cola can’s worth of sugar.
Chili’s Crispy Honey Chipotle Crispers with BBQ Sauce
Nutrition: 1,840 calories, 90 g fat (15 g saturated fat), 5,540 mg sodium, 202 g carbs (12 g fiber, 69 g sugar), 56 g protein
With the word “crisp” in the title twice, you’d think fat would be your biggest worry, but Chili’s manages to pack 55 grams of sugar into the actual Crisper itself—before even adding on the BBQ Sauce.
P.F. Chang’s Orange Peel Chicken
Nutrition: 980 calories, 39 g fat (6 g saturated fat), 2,430 mg sodium, 92 g carbs (7 g fiber, 68 g sugar), 70 g protein
The blend of Hunan chili sauce and fresh orange slices results in a dish with more sugar than three 8-ounce glasses of orange juice.
Buffalo Wild Wings Hickory Pork Sandwich
Nutrition: 1,040 calories, 43 g fat (12 g saturated fat), 3,270 mg sodium, 123 g carbs (7 g fiber, 69 g sugar), 38 g protein
Although whipping up a slow-cooker batch of pulled pork makes low-calorie desk lunches a breeze, we’d recommend sticking to your homemade version over this dietary disaster.
Jamba Juice Island Pitaya Bowl
Nutrition: 470 calories, 8 g fat (2.5 g saturated fat), 20 mg sodium, 100 g carbs (12 g fiber, 70 g sugar), 6 g protein
“Energy bowls” are a new trend at juice places, but remember that another word for “energy” is “calories.” While some of the sugar comes from fruit, much of it comes from honey and granola, leading to more than two days’ worth of sweetness.
Chili’s Caribbean Salad with Grilled Chicken
Nutrition: 720 calories, 28 g fat (4.5 g saturated fat), 1,160 mg sodium, 86 g carbs (8 g fiber, 70 g sugar), 36 g protein
A salad with grilled chicken—every dieter’s cliché lunch, right? But this is a terrible example of sugar hiding in a seemingly healthful dish. After eating Chili’s Caribbean Salad—and its nine donuts worth of sugar—you’ll be less bikini-confident than ever. Order the zesty, Southwest Chicken Soup with a side salad instead. You’ll save 60 grams of the sweet stuff, and be swimsuit ready by summer. Build a better salad at home with these awesome mason jar salad recipes!
O’Charley’s California Chicken Salad with Balsamic
Nutrition: 1,440 calories, 106 g fat (19 g saturated fat), 1,245 mg sodium, 89 g carbs (0 g fiber, 74 g sugar), 38 g protein
Naming a salad after a state that evokes thoughts of juices and acai bowls seems certainly ironic when said salad has more sugar than you should eat in an entire day and a half!
P.F. Chang’s Sesame Chicken
Nutrition: 990 calories, 36 g fat (6 g saturated fat), 2,590 mg sodium, 102 g carbs (7 g fiber, 77 g sugar), 69 g protein
Duck! Your dinner table is about to get ransacked by the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Covered in a thick coating of sauce, Sesame Chicken has never looked like the healthiest pick on the menu, but you probably didn’t suspect that it has as much sugar as 20 jumbo marshmallows! Stay away from this dish, and the Sweet & Sour Chicken, too—that one came in a close second with whopping 69 grams of sugar (but, at least, it has the word “sweet” in the name). Instead, ask your server to bring you the Dynamite Shrimp starter with a small side of Spinach with Garlic as your entree. You’ll get that sweet, tangy taste you crave for a fraction of the calories and sugar. And keep losing weight—rapidly—with these 22 Best Teas for Weight Loss.
Denny’s Salted Caramel & Banana Cream Pancake Breakfast
Nutrition (served with 2 bacon strips, 2 eggs, & hash browns): 1,440 calories, 66 g fat (24 g saturated fat), 2,556 mg sodium, 180 g carbs (7 g fiber, 81 g sugar), 33 g protein
The chefs at Denny’s had a field day with this one. They stuff shortbread pieces into the buttermilk pancakes and then top with not just vanilla cream, but also bananas and warm salted caramel sauce. And then more shortbread pieces on top. Still not full? You can round out the meal with the extra bacon, eggs, and hash browns.
Panda Express 3-Entree Plate
Nutrition (for Chow Mein, Sweetfire Chicken Breast, Sweet & Sour Chicken, and Beijing Beef): 1,660 calories, 75 g fat (15 g saturated fat), 2,220 mg sodium, 198 g carbs (7 g fiber, 84 g sugar), 49 g protein
“Panda Express” accurately describes both what you’re going to look like, and how long it’s going to take you to get there. They call them “sweetfire” meats for a reason. Listen to the warning shot, and take evasive action. Getting a trio of String Bean Chicken Breast, Broccoli Beef, and Kung Pao Chicken with a side of brown rice would save you 66 grams of sugar!
Denny’s Cranberry Orange Pancake Breakfast
Nutrition (served with hearty breakfast sausage, 2 sunny side up eggs, hash browns): 1,480 calories, 75 g fat (20 g saturated fat), 2,866 mg sodium, 164 g carbs (5 g fiber, 84 g sugar), 40 g protein
Orange cream cheese icing layered on top of cranberry-laden pancakes results in the sugariest dish at Denny’s.
Bob Evans Blueberry Supreme Brioche French Toast
Nutrition (served with blueberry topping, cream cheese icing, whipped topping, powdered sugar): 910 calories, 24 g fat (11 g saturated fat, 0.5 g trans fat), 900 mg sodium, 151 g carbs (3 g fiber, 85 g sugar), 22 g protein
Blueberry topping, cream cheese icing, whipped topping, and powdered sugar come together on top of two slices of French toast and carry a whopping 85 grams of sugar.
P.F. Chang’s Spicy Chicken
Nutrition: 960 calories, 35 g fat (6 g saturated fat), 1,500 mg sodium, 102 g carbs (0 g fiber, 90 g sugar), 61 g protein
We’re starting to see a trend here where “spicy” really means you’re getting a plate of chicken with as much sugar as 14 Birthday Frosting Filled Chips Ahoy cookies.
O’Charley’s Full Rack Baby Back Ribs with Broccoli and Mashed Potatoes
Nutrition: 1,530 calories, 73.5 g fat (26 g saturated fat, 0.5 g trans fat), 5,300 mg sodium, 136 g carbs (10 g fiber, 94 g sugar), 73 g protein
The culprit for the sugar isn’t just the Baby Back Ribs. Would you ever guess that a side of mashed sweet potatoes had 18 grams of sugar in it? That’s more than what’s in three KIND Fruit & Nut Delight bars! And that’s one of our top ranked KIND bars!
Cheesecake Factory Teriyaki Chicken
Nutrition: 1,320 calories, 19 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 3993 g sodium, 207 g carbs (2 g fiber, 96 g sugar), 70 protein
“Terror-yaki” is more like it. This entree—which could only have been conceived in a “factory”—is the sugar equivalent of 3.5 Snickers Bars, and comes topped with two days’ worth of salt. As much as we hate the idea of ordering anything called “Skinnylicious” in front of a dinner date, at Cheesecake Factory that might be your best.
BJ’s Baby Back Pork Ribs Full Rack
Nutrition: 1,300 calories, 68 g fat (25 g saturated fat), 7,835 mg sodium, 119 g carbs (2 g fiber, 100 g sugar), 50 g protein
We don’t know what is in the Big Poppa Smokers’ Sweet Money Championship Rub, but it turns this full rack of pork ribs into an item worthy of the dessert menu with 100 grams of sugar — that’s like eating four Snickers bars in one sitting! For something a little more figure-friendly that saves you over 100 grams of sugar, plus 500 calories to boot, ask for the sirloin instead. It’s packed with just as much protein!
Chili’s Crispy Honey Chipotle & Waffles
Nutrition: 2,480 calories, 125 g fat (40 g saturated fat, 0.5 g trans fat), 5,240 mg sodium, 276 g carbs (11 g fiber, 105 g sugar), 63 g protein
No one ever thought chicken and waffles is healthy, but would you have guessed your order came with more added sugars than you should consume in two whole days?
Boston Market Half-Rack St. Louis Style BBQ Ribs
Nutrition (served with Corn, Sweet Potato Casserole, BBQ Sauce & Cornbread): 1,760 calories, 93 g fat (30 g saturated fat), 2,960 mg sodium, 167 g carbs (10 g fiber, 105 g sugar), 58 g protein
With a holiday weekend’s worth of sugar and two days of sodium, your blood sugar and blood pressure will be in a race to see who can redline faster. Opting the same plate but with a Quarter Skinless Rotisserie Chicken with gravy instead of BBQ sauce will save you a whopping 28 grams of sugar—enough that you can enjoy what you really want: dessert.
Cheesecake Factory Bruleed French Toast
Nutrition: 2,780 calories, n/a g fat (93 g saturated fat), 2,230 mg sodium, n/a g carbs (n/a g fiber, 120 g sugar), n/a g protein
Calling this “dessert for breakfast” wouldn’t even cut it, since an average slice of white cake with chocolate frosting only has 30 grams of sugar. Meet the absolute Worst Breakfast in America.
Jamba Juice Strawberry Surf Rider, Large
Nutrition (28 oz): 590 calories, 2 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 15 mg sodium, 142 g carbohydrates, (4 g fiber, 128 g sugar), 4 g protein
Strawberry Surf Rider? Strawberry Couch Rider might be a better name for this sugary combination of fruit, lime sherbet, and lemonade. Even downgrading to the smallest size, 16 ounces, will still put you at 70 grams of the sweet stuff.
Smoothie King The Hulk Strawberry, 40 Oz
Nutrition: 1,810 calories, 54 g fat (26 g saturated fat), 680 mg sodium, 291 g carbs (13 g fiber, 253 g sugar), 48 g protein
“Blended to help you get toned, build muscle, last longer or recover faster” is the claim Smoothie King makes for its line of Fitness Blends, of which The Hulk is the beefiest. It contains butter pecan ice cream and a proprietary “weight gain blend.” We’re pretty sure we know what’s in that: about five days’ worth of sugar. (P.S. The 32-ounce version still has 190 grams of sugar, and the smallest size of 20 ounces still boasts 127 grams.) If you’re looking to bulk up, take a look at these protein powders instead.