Sure, we expect to find sugar in things like soft drinks, candy and cookies, but the sweet stuff can be pretty sneaky. Or, more accurately, food manufactures can be pretty sneaky about adding it in places we wouldn’t expect to see it—and then cleverly disguising it as something “wholesome” or “good for you.” Here are some of the top culprits:
- Breakfast cereal (hot and cold): Bite for bite, most “healthy” cereals have as much sugar as their fruity and frosted counterparts. And even if you choose a low-sugar cereal, remember that starchy carbohydrates like grains break down into sugar into the digestive tract. The best choices? Keep it simple and choose plain, whole-seed cereals made from chia, and you can always top them with your favorite low-sugar fruits.
- Pre-packaged fruit: With so much natural sweetness of its own, it’s baffling why food manufacturers think it’s necessary to add sugar to fruit. While it is always better to choose fresh, raw, low-sugar fruits, the convenience of “to-go” portions and packaging is sometimes hard to pass up. Be sure to check the ingredients for added sugar, and steer clear of phrases like “in light syrup” or “made with real fruit”.
- Cereal bars, granola bars, protein bars: They’re the perfect “healthy” snack for tossing in a purse or backpack, right? Not if you consider the amount of added sugar hiding inside your average cereal bar or granola bar—up to 20 grams per bar. And yes, protein is a smart snacking option because it can help curb cravings and keep you satisfied during the day, but protein bars can have as much sugar as the average candy bar. Opt for a handful of raw nuts instead.
- Condiments: Always check your labels, even when it comes to your condiments! Some of the biggest offenders here are barbecue sauce, pasta sauce, salad dressing—yes, even the “healthy” organic varieties—which contain high amounts of added sugar. For your ribs, opt for a low-sugar (or no-sugar) dry rub instead. Use fresh tomatoes in your sauces and on your burgers, and try using just olive oil and vinegar (or lemon juice) atop your salads.
- Beverages: This is a big one, and it includes everything from milk (especially flavored milk) to fruit juice to energy drinks. That “healthy” grape juice your kids love with the added vitamins and “no added sugar”? Try 36 grams of sugar per 8-ounce serving. That sports drink you think is reviving you after your workout? At roughly 30 grams of sugar per bottle (or more), is it really worth it? And even if your favorite soft drinks and energy drinks are sugar free, that usually just means they’re made with artificial sweeteners, which are just as harmful to your body. The best choice is to drink plenty of pure, filtered water.
- Yogurt: Remember those granola bars we talked about? A single serving of flavored yogurt can be hiding more than twice the amount of added sugar than your average granola bar. And the less fat your yogurt contains (as with many “light” brands and flavors), the more sugar it is likely to pack per spoonful. Without the excess sugar, yogurt is actually an excellent source of protein—not to mention beneficial active cultures. Opt for plain, natural yogurt instead and add your own low-sugar fruit.
Can You Spot the Sweet Stuff?
Added sugars come in many forms, including sugar, cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup, fructose, sucrose, agave nectar, honey, fruit juice concentrates. Be sure to read the Supplement Facts labels on the products you buy to see how much sugar they contain, and always check the ingredients; the closer sugar is to the top of the list, the more sugar it’s going to have.
How Much Sugar Should You Eat?
You should be consuming no more than 10 teaspoons of sugar each day, and that means total sugars—including the pastas and breads you eat that are converted to sugar. Keep in mind that packaged foods are labeled according to grams of sugar and carbohydrates, not teaspoons. Use this quick sugar conversion formula to find out exactly how much total sugar is in your food:
Total grams of carbs – Total grams of fiber/5 = Total teaspoons of sugar
That’s the total grams of carbs minus the total grams of fiber listed in the nutrition facts on a label, all divided by 5. This will give you the total teaspoons of sugar in a serving of that food. It’s important to take the total grams of carbs, not total grams of sugar when you are doing your conversion. That way, you are taking into account the sugars that break down from carbohydrates in addition to sugars themselves.