It’s not breaking nutrition news that sugar is detrimental to our health. Excess sugar consumption has been linked to weight gain and obesity, uncontrollable cravings, cavities, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, premature aging, mood swings and irritability, and so much more. Even though we know that it is harmful, however, our consumption continues to skyrocket – the average American eats over 20 teaspoons of sugar per day, making up between 230 and 362 calories in our daily diet. That’s over 75 pounds of sugar per year!
It’s nearly impossible – and unnecessary for most people – to avoid sugar all together. A moderate amount of fruit (especially when balanced by a diet high in vegetables, healthy fats, and protein), dairy for those who can tolerate it, and even a bit of honey or maple syrup here and there won’t lead to health problems. However, these little bits of added sugar are found in nearly everything, and they can quickly add up if we are not careful.
Limiting our consumption of added sugar – while difficult – is one of the most important steps we can take towards maintaining a healthy weight, balanced energy levels, and overall optimal health. Below are my top 10 sources of hidden added sugar, along with healthier substitutes, so that you can become a sugar sleuth and support your best health. Don’t let yourself get swept away on the sugar roller coaster!
1. Spaghetti Sauce
- Examples: It might be one of the last places you’d expect to find added sugar, but most pre-prepared spaghetti sauce is loaded with it. A ½-cup serving of Prego Tomato, Onion, & Garlic sauce has 12 grams of sugar, or 3 teaspoons, and most of it is added sugar (“sugar” falls right after “dehydrated onions” on the ingredient list). Most people use double or triple the serving size, which means they could easily have the same amount of sugar as a can of Coke … right on top of their pasta!
- Upgrades: Replace it with plain canned tomato sauce with some Italian seasoning stirred in (a ½-cup has 4 grams of naturally occurring sugar), or simply sauté some fresh tomatoes, onions, garlic, basil, and oregano in olive oil. For a prepared option, try Rao’s (https://amzn.to/3kf9y8c), Organico Bello (https://amzn.to/2HhoKn7), or Uncle Steve’s (http://amzn.to/2esqQ5k).
2. Barbecue Sauce
- Examples: Two tablespoons of KC Masterpiece Original barbecue sauce contain a full three teaspoons of sugar. I recall my family making barbecued chicken with about a half a bottle of barbecue sauce (a whopping 51 teaspoons of sugar, split between our 4-person family), so I think it’s safe to say that it can quickly add up.
- Upgrades: To upgrade your barbecue sauce, try marinating chicken in olive oil, lemon juice, and herbs. Even if you “must” spread a thin layer of barbecue sauce on after cooking, you’re still reducing your intake dramatically. For a prepared option, try Primal Kitchen (https://amzn.to/3jal17K) or Simple Girl (http://amzn.to/2glGNaq).
- Examples: The third ingredient in Heinz ketchup is high fructose corn syrup, and the fourth is corn syrup – just picture a ketchup bottle ¼ full of sugar, and that’s exactly what you’re putting on your burger!
- Upgrades: I recommend swapping for tomato slices or salsa, which give a lot of flavor with low calories and no added sugar. For a prepared option, try Sir Kensington’s (http://amzn.to/2w4EK4R).
4. Salad Dressing
- Examples: By now, you’re probably noticing a trend: many sauces tend to be sugar-laden. Salad dressings are no exception, and the ones labeled “fat-free” are often the worst culprits, since food manufacturers have to enhance the taste with something (added sugar!) after removing the fat. Two tablespoons of Kraft Fat-Free Raspberry Vinaigrette dressing have 9 grams of sugar. In fact, the dressing contains more sugar than vinegar, oil, raspberry, or anything else aside from water!
- Upgrades: To upgrade your dressing, look for dressings with 2 grams or less per serving. I recommend using olive oil and balsamic vinegar or lemon juice. I often enjoy dressing a salad simply with avocado oil and salt, hummus, or salsa and avocado for a Mexican-inspired salad. For a prepared option, try Tessemae’s Balsamic Vinaigrette or other flavors (https://www.tessemaes.com/collections/dressings/products/organic-balsamic).
- Examples: You may think that you’re making the healthier choice by opting for yogurt at breakfast, but if you’re reaching for a version laden with added sugars, you may be wrong. Yogurt is one of the top places food manufacturers hide added sugar – a 6-ounce container of Yoplait Strawberry has 25 grams of sugar (more than 6 teaspoons!), and Kraft Breyers Smooth & Creamy Lowfat Strawberry Yogurt has a whopping 39 grams (nearly 10 teaspoons).
- Upgrades: Any yogurt will have some sugar, because milk products contain lactose, a naturally-occurring sugar. A plain 6-ounce serving of Fage 0% Greek yogurt contains 7 grams, for example. Remember to check the ingredient list to see if sugar (or any of its many other names) are high in the ranking. In general, I recommend staying away from any yogurt with more than 15 grams of sugar per serving. It is helpful to choose plain varieties (rather than fruit flavored varieties), and add your own flavoring with berries, other chopped fruit, canned pumpkin and cinnamon, or cocoa powder and stevia for a chocolaty treat. For prepared options, try Fage plain yogurt, Quark flavored yogurt, or Siggi’s flavored yogurt. Watch out for artificial sweeteners, too! (For example, Light & Fit Greek has several artificial sweeteners … Light & Fit Greek Zero or Oikos Triple Zero are both sweetened with stevia, which is fine.
- Examples: Even the healthier-sounding muffins at Starbucks contain up to 34 grams (they have recently redone their menu, as previous versions had up to 57 grams of sugar each!), and it’s not just Starbucks. The Cinnamon Crumb muffin at Corner Bakery has 50 grams; the Coffee Cake muffin at Dunkin’ Donuts has 51 grams (in fact, you could have 5 Bavarian Cream donuts for less sugar!).
- Upgrades: Try making your own muffins with less added sugar (I recommend these Apple Cinnamon muffins: https://wellnessmama.com/2185/apple-cinnamon-muffins/ or these Banana Bread muffins: http://www.runningwithspoons.com/2014/04/29/flourless-banana-bread-muffins/). For prepared options, try Mikey’s English Muffins (https://mikeysmuffins.com) or GardenLites muffins (http://www.gardenlites.com/products/).
7. Energy bars, protein bars, granola bars
- Examples: If I had a dollar for every time a client told me they ate an energy bar instead of an apple, thinking they were making a healthy decision, I would be a happy camper. Not only do most energy bars contain preservatives, artificial sweeteners, and more chemical-sounding ingredients than you can imagine, but they often contain high amounts of added sugar. A Clif bar – often touted as a healthy snack – contains 24 grams of sugar. The first ingredient (even before oats!) is brown rice syrup, a source of added sugar. The “Performance Energy” PowerBar contains 28 grams of sugar, and the first ingredient is a combination of various types of sugars. Of course, this is far less harmful if you’re in the act of running a marathon or a multi-hour bike ride, but for the average person picking up a bar in the checkout aisle of the supermarket, the sugar is doing more harm than good.
- Upgrades: To upgrade your bars, look for bars that have only naturally occurring sugar (Larabars, for example, are fairly high in total sugar, at 18 grams each, but the sugar comes from fruit only, rather than added sugar). Lower sugar, higher protein bars are also available, and are great options for many people, but the “best” bar really varies by person. Depending on the clients’ goals, the sensitivity of their stomachs, their dietary restrictions, and their preferences, I have a wide range of bars that I frequently recommend. Regardless, I recommend choosing one with minimal added sugar, at least 3 grams of fiber, and at least 5 grams of protein and / or healthy fat. A few of my favorites are Garden of Life Organic Fit bars (https://amzn.to/2TWZ7vF), 22 Days bars (http://amzn.to/2v6FvKx), or No Cow bars (http://amzn.to/2edYeeo).
8. Breakfast cereal
- Examples: Starting your day with a high dosage of added sugar sets you up for more cravings throughout the day, and leads to general blood sugar instability. What a shame, then, that so many of the foods we feed our children first thing in the morning contain so much added sugar! There are the obvious sources, like Kellogg’s Froot Loops, which clock in at 13 grams per serving and contain more sugar than anything else, and Kellogg’s Honey Smacks (initially called “Sugar Smacks”), which are over 50% sugar by weight. And it’s not just the indulgent-sounding varieties that are sugar bombs. Even healthier sounding products often contain large quantities of sugar – a 1-cup serving of Post Raisin Bran contains 19 grams of sugar (nearly 5 teaspoons), and a ¾ cup serving of Kellogg’s Cracklin’ Oat Bran contains 14 grams.
- Upgrades: To upgrade your cereal, first watch your portion sizes. It can be helpful to measure out a correct portion at least a few times, so you learn to eyeball the appropriate size. Second, choose a healthier cereal. I recommend looking for a cereal with less than 8 grams of sugar per serving, at least 3 grams of fiber, and at least 3 grams of protein or healthy fat. There are some available cereals that contain just one ingredient, the grain itself (for example, puffed millet or puffed kamut). I also recommend that clients add in a tablespoon of chia seeds or slivered almonds to their cereal bowl, to provide a bit of extra healthy fat that will slow the blood sugar spike, and some optional blueberries, to provide a good dose of micronutrients to start the day. For more on this, and to hear some options that I recommend, watch this video: https://www.facebook.com/TheLyonsShareWellness/videos/1379645332121198
9. Dried fruit
- Examples: If dried fruit seems too delicious to be healthy, unfortunately, it probably is. Not only do most food manufacturers add in significant amounts of sugar to sweeten the dried fruit, but the process of drying removes water, which concentrates even the naturally-occurring sugar and makes it more likely to spike your blood sugar. Half a cup of fresh cranberries, for example, contains just 2 grams of sugar, but half a cup of Craisins (sweetened dried cranberries) contains 58 grams!
- Upgrades: To upgrade your afternoon snack, simply choose whole fruit whenever possible. When you do choose dried fruit, be sure to seek out the kinds without added sugar, and rely upon the sweet taste from the fruit itself. For prepared options, try Matt’s Munchies (http://amzn.to/2gsiI5j) or KIND Fruit Bites (http://amzn.to/2vIRfPn), and limit to one serving per day!
10. Coffee drinks
- Examples: The large Frozen Sugar Cookie Coffee Coolatta (made with skim milk) at Dunkin’ Donuts contains 141 grams of sugar, or over 35 teaspoons. The Venti Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha at Starbucks contains 108 grams. Surely, the consumers who choose one of these options are not thinking they’re making the healthiest possible decision, but they probably aren’t anticipating that they are consuming over 5 days’ worth of added sugar in one sweet cup.
- Upgrades: To upgrade your coffee shop choice, a simple coffee or tea is your best bet, and contains no sugar. If that’s going too far, try a simple latte … a Starbucks Grande Caffe Latte with coconut milk contains just 8 grams of sugar, and the version made with nonfat milk contains just 11 grams. Better yet, save your money and brew a nice cup of coffee or tea yourself, using Nutpods (http://amzn.to/2ocFTTF) as a delicious and creamy, sugar-free addition! For more on healthy sweeteners to add to your coffee, see this video: https://www.facebook.com/TheLyonsShareWellness/videos/1405930422826022.
Note: this is an updated excerpt from “Start Here: 7 Easy, Diet-Free Steps to Achieve Your Ultimate Health and Happiness.” For much more on how to reduce sugar, and 5 more hidden sources of added sugar, buy the book here: http://amzn.to/2e5C905!
Now it’s your turn … where do you find hidden added sugars? Do any of the above sources of hidden added sugar surprise you?