In my quest to learn more about nutrition, I stumbled across a sneaky little ingredient hiding in way more “healthy” items than I could have imagined.
I’m talking about sugar here.
According to Jackie Warner, a celebrity personal trainer and author of This is Why You’re Fat, “The biggest reason people get fat is sugar.”
But most of us are smart.
We know not to consume large amounts of candy and ice cream all day. So where’s the issue?
Well, it’s in the hidden, added sugars that you have to watch out for.
These sugars are cleverly buried in foods that are marketed as healthy, but these foods couldn’t be further from wholesome.
1. Flavored yogurt
Now, I’m not really a yogurt kind of guy. But I can’t help notice how empty the store shelves become anytime a Yoplait 10 for $10 sale hits.
People seem to love it, and I just don’t get it.
It doesn’t fill me up and it’s loaded with sugar.
Yet somehow it’s promoted as a healthy snack.
To show you what I mean, let’s take a look at this informational banner on the Yoplait website.
Sure, the glaring 25% less sugar seems like a step in the right direction, but check out the last bullet point, which just so happens to be in the smallest, less eye-catching font.
The sugar for a tiny 6oz container started at 26g – way higher than your recommended daily intake! That’s almost 10g shy of what you’d find in a can of soda. What’s even worse is that the reduced sugar version hasn’t cut the sugar enough. In fact, it’s still way too high in the double-digit zone at 18g of sugar for just 6oz.
And the healthy gut-promoting brand Activia is no better.
A smaller, 4oz container has as much as 15g of sugar.
That’s a bit outrageous.
2. Fruit juices
We all know that soda contains a shocking amount of sugar, but only drinking water can get boring. You may be tempted to reach for fruit juice to quench your taste buds. Although this probably seems like a good idea since you’re having fruit, you’re dead wrong.
As it turns out, some fruit juices also contain more fructose than soda.
Take a look at this chart from NPR:
As you can see, Mountain Dew tops the list with over 70g of sugar per liter, but look what came in third.
That’s right. Minute Maid 100% Apple juice with a whopping 65.8g of fructose per liter.
And Ocean Spray 100% Cranberry juice isn’t far behind with 55.4g.
According to Michael Goran, the director of the Childhood Obesity Research Center, “Unlike glucose, which serves as fuel for the body, fructose is processed almost entirely in the liver where it is converted to fat, which increases risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and liver disease.”
All from drinking a seemingly healthy drink.
3. Sports drinks
And sports drinks aren’t any better.
The amount of sugar hiding behind those colorful, electrolyte packed drinks is just as bad.
According to Harvard’s How Sweet Is It? chart, sports drinks fall under the “drink sparingly and infrequently” category thanks to their 50g of sugar for every 12 ounces.
I’m still trying to figure out why doctors recommend drinks like Gatorade for fluid replenishment. Drinking all that sugar has to negate any possible nutritional boost.
Luckily, there are companies like Nuun who see the irony in providing a fluid replacement drink that’s packed with sugar. Instead, they offer an effervescent option with all the vitamins and minerals you need minus the added sugars.
4. Energy drinks
The How Sweet Is It? research goes on to state that energy drinks like Redbull, Full Throttle Original, SoBe Adrenaline Rush, and Vault are just as loaded with sugars as common sports drinks.
These four energy drinks average around 45g of sugar, or roughly 11 teaspoons, per 12oz.
It’s no wonder you get an energy boost – you’re experiencing a sugar high that may or may not be backed by caffeine.
All of this is just too much for your body to process and should be avoided.
I’ve always found ketchup to be on the sweet side and my tastebuds are not wrong. Ketchup is laden with sugar.
“[T]his seemingly innocent tomato-based sauce can pack as much as 6 grams of added sugar in a single ounce,” according to SparkPeople.
So we’re basically sprinkling sugar on top of our french fries, hot dogs, and hamburgers. When I put it like that, it’s so unappealing.
We’d never order a side of fries and ask for sugar on top, so why are we dumping this sugar-laced condiment on so many things?
My guess is that most people don’t know what’s actually in their beloved ketchup.
You probably didn’t realize how easy it was to make your own ketchup either. All you have to do is mix a can of tomato puree with vinegar, onion, and garlic powder – no added sugar required.
6. Barbecue sauce
After some research, I found out that barbecue sauce contains as much as 6g of sugar for each tablespoon, according to the USDA.
When you think about the size of a tablespoon, it may not seem like that much. But in reality, no one uses just a tablespoon when they’re eating a traditional barbecue style meal.
Barbecue sauce may be even worse than ketchup because it’s usually doused all over your pulled pork dinner or baby back ribs platter.
The next two on the list probably surprised me more than anything.
7. Pasta sauce
“The sauce alone has 12 grams of sugar for every half cup,” which is equivalent to three sugar packets, according to Prevention.
While I can see the similarities between ketchup and pasta sauce, it was a bit more shocking to see that much sugar in a sauce that should be more savory than sweet.
Apparently, some of our favorite pasta sauces are cutting corners by using dehydrated vegetables and low quality vegetable oils, according to David Zinczenko of Men’s Health.
Sounds appetizing, right?
And that’s why the sugar is added.
It’s all starting to make sense now.
8. Asian sauce
Who doesn’t love a good Chinese takeout every once in awhile?
Although I had a feeling Asian style sauce wasn’t the healthiest thing in the world, I was still shocked to see it rank this high on the list.
Whether your favorite is Sesame Chicken or General Tso’s, you may be surprised to learn just how much sugar is in your everyday take out dishes.
According to Men’s Health, the sauce in Asian cuisine could have as much as 88g of sugar per meal.
9. Salad dressings
Let’s take Ken’s Fat Free Sun-Dried Tomato Vinaigrette dressing for example.
The name says it’s fat free and it’s not a cream based dressing like Ranch or Caesar, so it’s must have some healthy attributes, right?
If you count 2% of Vitamin A or Vitamin C as a “healthy attribute” then I can only slightly agree.
But if you’re watching your sugar intake, this salad dressing is just terrible.
Two tablespoons come in at 70 calories and 12g of sugar.
Sure, there are zeros next to everything with the word “fat” in it, but all the sugar will eventually turn into fat.
Which brings me to my next topic…
10. Fat free anything
Anytime you see “fat free” on the label or menu, your best bet is to put it back on the shelf or don’t even bother ordering it.
Generally speaking, in an effort to make fat free foods taste better, the easy solution is to add sugar and other unnecessary chemicals. This trade off actually makes fat free foods worse for you than their full fat options.
Avoid foods labeled “fat free” at all costs and choose low fat options instead.
It’s exciting to see fast-food chains like Panera and McDonald’s attempting to offer healthy options like oatmeal on their menu. But is it really any good for you?
On the surface, McDonald’s oatmeal is flavored with both fruit and maple syrup.
It’s oatmeal so it seems healthy right?
Unfortunately, it’s not.
McDonald’s oatmeal is loaded with 32g of sugar for a teeny tiny serving.
Yes, you could argue that the sugar comes from the apples, cranberries, and two types of raisins, but it doesn’t stop there.
McDonald’s also adds both regular sugar and brown sugar to the mix. Oatmeal is one of the healthiest foods for you, but by adding two types of sugars, and sugary fruit, McDonald’s defeats the purpose of having a nutritious breakfast option.
According to Buzzfeed, a healthy individual should consume no more than 25g of sugar a day, or about two-thirds of a can of soda.
But if you order one oatmeal, you’re already maxed out for the day.
And most of the oatmeal we make at home isn’t any better.
Have you seen the Nutrition Facts on flavored instant oatmeal lately?
They are just as terrible.
The best way to get the full benefits of healthy oats is to make your own, the old fashioned way, on the stove. You can then add any of your favorite flavor options to keep the calories and sugar in check.
Smoothies are another trap I see people unknowingly falling into.
You pat yourself on the back for choosing a fruit blended smoothie when you really wanted a chocolate milkshake.
If you take a look at Jamba Juice, one of the most popular smoothie chains around, a small Banana Berry Smoothie has 60g of sugar, or twice the recommended value.
I’d be surprised if there is even any fruit in these things; you’re mostly paying for sugary juice and frozen yogurt and sherbet.
At that point, just order some frozen yogurt so you can control the portions a bit better. After all, no one needs a drink mixed with fruit, yogurt, and sherbet. It’s just too much sugar for your body.
13. Dried fruit
When it comes to eating dried fruit, you’re battling with more than just the high amount of sugar found naturally in the fruit.
You’re dealing with the pre-treating and dehydrating processes zapping your fruit of the vital nutrients that made it healthy in the first place.
When fruit is dehydrated, you can bet that most of its flavor is wiped out as well.
So how do big companies compensate for dull flavor?
Yep. You guessed it. By adding things like sugars, dextrose, sulfites, glucose syrup, fruit juice, or sorbic acid, manufacturers are able to create flavors that are enjoyable for tastebuds, but less friendly to your waistline or overall health.
Dried fruit is one of those snacks, like nuts, that people tend to overeat.
Most people don’t realize how small a serving of dried fruit is, so a snack could easily rack up to a full meal in sugar calories.
It’s no surprise that you should be consuming whole grains instead of overly processed and refined ones, but you should be especially careful when it comes to your wheat bread.
Now that the craze has shifted to whole wheat, many manufacturers are trying to compete on flavor instead of nutritional value.
Check out Arnold’s 100% Whole Wheat for example.
Although the calorie count comes in low at 40 per slice, sugar is the seventh ingredient on the list of 23.
But if you look at the Nutrition Facts, you’ll only find 2g of sugar.
Not so bad right?
Here’s what most people don’t notice:
Ingredient number 20 is sucralose, an artificial sweetener that’s worse for you than sugar. Sucralose doesn’t break down in our bodies at all.
So although you’re seeing only 2g of actual sugar, there’s really two types of dangerous sweeteners: sugar and sucralose.
If you’re not carefully reading both nutrition facts and ingredient lists, you’re ignoring serious red flags in some of your everyday kitchen staples.
15. Baked beans
Essentially a must-have at any barbecue, baked beans should be a healthy choice on the surface.
Beans are loaded with fiber and protein and baking them sounds like the smart option.
But delve behind the label and you’ll see how bad they can be.
According to the Huffington Post UK, Bush’s Country Style baked beans contain 56g of sugar – two grams of sugar higher than what you’ll find in a Monster energy drink (54g).
All for a side of beans?
Instead of ladling out the ultrasweet cans of baked beans, try cooking your own with fresh garlic, tomato, and spices.
Now that you know 15 places where hidden sugars are lurking, you’ll want to find healthy alternatives. Instead of blindly seeking fat free options, choose low fat. When it comes to yogurt, reach for the Greek plain yogurt and flavor it yourself.
And don’t just assume something is healthy because the advertisement mentioned a reduction in sugar.
Read nutrition labels and understand ingredient lists so you know exactly what will fuel or harm your body.
Your waistline will surely thank your brain for making just a few educated choices.
Which item on our list surprised you by having the highest amount of sugar?