Not only sweets are full of sugar. “Sugar is part of our natural foods. It’s part of our rutabaga and carrots,” says nutritionist Donna Weihofen, RD, of the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics in Madison. “Nature doesn’t mean for us to give up on sugar.”
The natural fructose sugar found in fruits and vegetables and lactose sugar in milk and dairy is part of a healthful diet. The problem lies with processed foods packed with high amounts of sugar (namely sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup). And it’s not just the obvious culprits, like soda, candy, and cakes. Manufacturers have snuck sugar into many low-calorie, low-fat, so-called health foods — some which don’t even taste sweet! Are you consuming more sugar than you realize? Watch for these top sneaky sources of added sugar, and learn what to eat instead.
You see the advertising everywhere: Healthy, fit people enjoying a granola bar in the fresh air after a glorious hike. Yet despite their health-conscious profile, granola bars contain a lot of added sugar. Instead of a prepackaged granola bar, you could create your own trail mix with a handful of nuts, dry oatmeal or muesli, dried fruit with natural sugar, such as cranberries, and even a few bits of dark chocolate. This will almost guarantee the nutrients and energy you need, while you control the added sugar.
Cereal can be a great way to start the day, especially if it contains some fiber and if you have it with milk. But reading and comparing labels is essential to maintain a low-sugar diet. “You need to really look closely at cereals,” says Weihofen, noting that some granola-based cereals have as many as 13 grams of sugar per serving, while other cereals have as few as 6 or even 2 grams.
If you’ve ever made barbecue sauce, you know that the ingredients can include one or more of the “natural sugars,” such as honey, molasses, and brown sugar. Bottled brands can have as many as 11 grams of added sugar per serving, says Weihofen. Every time you slather on barbecue sauce, you are adding sugar to your meat, a naturally sugar-free protein. Seasoning meat before cooking with a tasty blend of spices, called a rub, is a better option for a low-sugar diet.
With about one teaspoon of sugar in every one-tablespoon serving, ketchup is a startling source of added sugar. This is where being label savvy really counts because you may not see the word “sugar” in the ingredients list. “Other words that are sugar-type ingredients are corn syrup, sorghum, glucose, fructose, lactose, sucrose, galactose, maltose, and concentrated juices, like concentrated grape or apple juice,” says Weihofen. Remember, ingredients are listed from the highest to the lowest amounts on the label.
Tomato Sauces and Soups
Like ketchup, tomato sauce and tomato soup may also be foods with sugar added. When cooking these from scratch at home, you might use caramelized onions or carrots for a little sweetness to counter the acidity in tomatoes. Not all tomato products contain a lot of added sugar, so get in the habit of checking out the label. Tomato paste, canned diced tomatoes, and salsa are all good additions to a low-sugar diet.
Yogurt is so good for your digestive tract that it’s hard to think of it as a food with sugar or that the 6 to 7 teaspoons of added sugar in one serving of flavored yogurt could be an issue. But just try to imagine yourself layering that amount of sugar onto plain yogurt. A better option is to go Greek: Drizzle a little honey onto plain, thick-style Greek yogurt or simply rely on the natural sweetness of berries or other fresh fruit that you add yourself to liven it up.
Dried fruit can be a healthy snack. Overdo it, however, and you may end up consuming significant amounts of natural sugar. “Five to six pitted dates have 32 grams of sugar,” notes Weihofen, adding that if you saw that on the label of a packaged snack you’d probably drop it like a hot potato. However, dried fruit is also high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, offering benefits that can outweigh the sugar content, as long as you nosh in moderation.
Even though consuming a lot of added sugar is not a good idea, you can’t — and probably shouldn’t — steer clear of everything that has natural sugar in it. Though fruit and many root vegetables contain sugar, you also benefit from the vitamins, minerals, and fiber in these foods. “It would be a sad carrot that had no sugar,” points out Weihofen, adding, “We would never recommend that you stop eating fruits to avoid sugar.”