By now, we are all probably hyper-aware of our sugar intake and which foods to avoid that are notoriously high in sugar. But what if some of those foods that you normally wouldn’t worry about are actually surprisingly high in added sugar as well? Believe it or not, a lot of the foods that are labeled as “healthy” are filled with sugar to make them taste better to us.
The best way to avoid these foods is to get in the habit of reading nutrition labels. It is recommended that men consume no more than 9 teaspoons (about 37.8 g) of added sugar a day, and that women consume no more than 6 teaspoons (about 25.2 g) of added sugar a day. Fortunately, the new nutrition labels require that businesses include the amount of added sugars along with the amount of total sugar present in the product. By July 26th, 2019, this will be required for all businesses in the food industry.
It’s important to recognize that sugar, in and of itself, is not innately “bad.” In fact, a lot of sugars are really beneficial and important for human health. For example, fruits and whole grain products contain sugar, but are packed with many essential nutrients. These foods are also filled with fiber, which can help with weight management, lower cholesterol levels, and control blood sugar levels. So needless to say, we definitely don’t want to be cutting those sugars out of our diet. However, there are many foods that are high in sugar with little to no fiber content. And those are the ones we want to stay away from. These are usually products in which refined sugar is high on the list of ingredients. And usually, we know which foods these are off the top of our head. But there are also some sneaky foods that we may assume aren’t all that bad. But really, they’re full of extra, unneeded sugar. Here are some of those foods that we should try to use sparingly, or maybe just avoid completely.
1. Sports or Energy Drinks
Though these may seem like a good idea at the time, always check to see how much sugar is in your energy drink before you chug it down. It is sometimes necessary to drink a sugary energy drink to replenish electrolytes after a hard workout or a long sweat. But truthfully, if you’re not doing a really intense activity, most people really only need water.
Example: 1 bottle of Fruit Punch flavored Garorade – 34 g sugar
Alternative: water or homemade energy drink (water + lemon juice + salt + 1 tsp honey) – about 5 g sugar
2. Fruit Juices
A lot of fruit juices you can buy at the store are full of added sugar. I find this to be so unnecessary, since fruit is already so sweet on its own. Always be sure to read the ingredients list to see if sugar has been added, along with the natural fruit juices. But even if it is only fruit juice, these drinks should really only be had in moderation, since they inevitably have a good amount of sugar. Next time you’re craving some OJ, just eat an orange instead. This way you’re avoiding excess sugar, but you’re also getting the fiber of the fruit along with the juice.
Example: 1 cup of Minute Maid Lemonade – 28 g sugar
Alternative: Fruit-infused water or whole fruit
3. Some Coffee and Tea Drinks
Ok, I know I’ve been saying a lot of drinks to start off. But this is a big one that a lot of people tend to overlook. Obviously coffee and tea alone are not caloric at all. But there are a lot of coffee shops that offer drinks that automatically come with a lot of sugar in them. To avoid this, I usually just order a plain coffee with milk only, unsweetened. Obviously everyone has their own preferences, and adding a little bit of sugar to your coffee here and there isn’t the end of the world. But just try to avoid the drinks that secretly come packed with sugar.
Example: Starbucks Grande Iced Vanilla Latte – 28 g sugar
Alternative: Starbucks Grande Iced Coffee Unsweetened with Almond Milk – 1 g sugar
4. Flavored Yogurt
This is one that I was sort of in denial of for a while. I had always used vanilla-flavored Greek yogurt, ignoring how much added sugar was in it. But then I tried to incorporate plain Greek yogurt into my diet instead, and I was pleasantly surprised. There is significantly less sugar, and your taste buds really will adjust to the flavor difference. Now, vanilla yogurt tastes overly sweet to me.
Example: 5.3 oz single-serve Chobani vanilla Greek yogurt – 13 g sugar
Alternative: 5.3 oz single-serve Chobani plain Greek yogurt – 4 g sugar
5. Jellies & Jams
A lot of the time, when I’m eating a nice PB&J, I don’t think too much about the amount of sugar I’m eating. But in reality, jam is mostly sugar. Though jams are generally made with fruit, there is almost always added sugar in them too, which is so unnecessary. One time, I bought some strawberry jam at the farmers’ market, only to come home and find that the first ingredient was sugar! Instead, try mashing up whole fruit yourself and using it as a spread. This way, you can ensure that there’s no added sugar.
Example: 1 tbsp Smuckers strawberry jam – 12 g sugar
Alternative: 1/2 cup strawberries – 4 g sugar
6. Granola Bars
Granola bars, or really any energy bars, tend to be secretly high in sugar. While they usually have a rep for being the “healthy” snack option out there, you really have to be careful when discerning which ones to buy. Sometimes, it’s better to just go with a different snack such as nuts or whole fruit.
Example: Nature Valley Oats ‘n Honey granola bar – 11 g sugar (second ingredient is sugar)
Alternative: package of almonds – 2 g sugar
Hopefully by now we’ve all learned to seriously look at our cereal’s nutrition information, because it can be very deceiving as you walk down the cereal isle at the grocery store. So many companies try to make their product come off as the healthy cereal, when really, they’re loaded with extra sugar. Some cereals aren’t super high in sugar, yet if you consider how many “servings” you have when eating them, the sugar content can really add up.
Example: 1 cup Banana Nut Cheerios – 9 g sugar
Alternative: 1 cup plain Cheerios – 1 g sugar
8. Sauces & Condiments
A few years ago, when I found out how high tomato sauce, barbecue sauce, ketchup, and the like were in sugar, I was a lot more cautious about how much I used them. Savory things like sauces are not something I would’ve expected to be high in sugar. But they are!
Example: 1 serving of Chick-fil-A barbecue sauce – 9 g sugar
Alternative: 1 serving of homemade barbecue sauce (like this one) – 1 g sugar
9. Canned Fruit
While it’s definitely convenient to buy fruit that’s been pre-sliced, it has its downfalls. One of my favorites is to buy canned peaches and eat them as a light dessert. But when I started doing this, I noticed that sugar was on the ingredients list! (If you haven’t caught on by now, one of my biggest pet peeves is adding sugar to fruit…) I thought this was so unnecessary and actually would’ve preferred it much more without the extra sweetness. So from now on, I’m either going to very carefully inspect the ingredients list before buying canned fruit, or just use whole fruit instead.
Example: 1 single-serving can of Del Monte sliced peaches – 22 g sugar
Alternative: 1 medium peach – 8 g sugar
10. Canned Beans
I was always under the impression that beans were healthy, and they are! However, you have to keep a lookout for canned beans when shopping at the grocery store. Most beans usually don’t have added sugar, but those labeled “baked beans” or something similar usually have sugar as an added ingredient.
Example: 1/2 cup Bush’s Baked Beans – 12 g sugar
Alternative: 1/2 cup black beans – 0 g sugar
11. Canned Soups
This was one of the foods that I didn’t even realize had added sugar until I started doing research for this post. Turns out, canned soups can sometimes have added sugar to make it taste better. From now on, I’ll definitely be on the lookout for that.
Example: 1 cup Campbell’s Tomato Bisque – 24 g sugar
Alternative: 1 cup Campbell’s Chicken Noodle soup – 1 g sugar
12. Pre-Made Smoothies
A lot of bottled smoothies and smoothie stands will add ingredients to their smoothies that contain added sugar, such as flavored yogurt or fruit juices (as mentioned above). Sometimes, when I go to a juice or smoothie bar, I’ll order a smoothie only to find out that there was apple juice added to it, which is essentially just a bunch of added sugar. Instead, I prefer to make my own smoothies at home where I can use unsweetened milk and plain yogurt as smoothie add-ins.
Example: “The Activator Pineapple” small smoothie at Smoothie King – 44 g sugar (uses apple juice)
Alternative: homemade fruit smoothie with unsweetened milk & plain yogurt (like this one) – 16 g sugar
13. “Low-Fat” Snacks
Whenever I see food with the words “low-fat” on the label, it’s an instant red flag for me not to buy it. Because companies have tried to lower the fat content in their products, they subsequently add sugar to make sure their products still taste good.
Example: 2 tbsp of Reduced Fat Jif Peanut Butter – 4 g sugar
Alternative: 2 tbsp Jif Peanut Butter – 3 g sugar
14. Individual Flavored Oatmeal
Though the individual packets of oatmeal can be super convenient, they also tend to come with an extra dose of added sugar. Try switching to just plain oats instead. It’s generally cheaper, and you can control how much sugar goes in. I like to use plain oats and then use berries or some other fruit to add some flavor.
Example: 1 packet of Quaker Oats Maple & Brown Sugar Instant Oatmeal cooked in 1 cup of unsweetened almond milk – 12 g sugar
Alternative: 1/2 cup of plain oats cooked in 1 cup of unsweetened almond milk – 0 g sugar
15. Dried Fruit
While dried fruit can offer a lot of fiber and nutrients, it is also very high in sugar. Dried fruit can be easy to overeat, since the fruit is so much more condensed when the water is removed. When you choose to eat dried fruit, it should only be in small amounts to avoid consuming too much sugar. In general, I prefer to just eat hydrated, whole fruit instead. It is also important to avoid “candied” dried fruit, which is usually coated in an extra layer of sugar.
Example: 1/4 cup of dried cranberries – 27 g sugar
Alternative: 1 cup of raw cranberries – 5 g sugar
In general, sugar is a necessary part of everyone’s diet, and has many important functions within the body. However, our diets tend to be too high in sugar as it is. So we really need to be on the lookout for ways to cut back, and make sure we’re not getting too much more than we need. Be sure to keep these 15 things in mind when you’re grocery shopping, and always look carefully at the nutrition labels of the products you’re buying. Do this and you should be good to go!