Sugar, whether in its natural state or processed form, is a type of simple carbohydrate that your body uses for energy. While a little sugar is alright, numerous health problems have been linked with excess intake. Sugar is lurking in so many foods that most folks take in much more than they think.
Natural Vs. Added Sugar
It’s important to differentiate between natural and added sugars. Natural sugars can be found in foods like fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. These foods naturally contain sugar, but they also offer up a healthy dose of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. Added sugar, however, is what food manufacturer’s use during processing to enhance the flavor and texture of their products. This type of sugar is devoid of nutrients and offers the body no nutritional value. This is the form of sugar we need to be mindful of and minimize our intake.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to a maximum of 6 teaspoons daily (100 calories worth) for women and 9 teaspoons daily (150 calories worth) for men. That may sound like a lot, but it can add up quickly. Most Americans average about 22 teaspoons of added sugar daily!
Not only can too much added sugar lead to weight gain and tooth decay, but a report in the Journal of the American Heart Association states that, in excessive amounts, sugar can raise triglycerides (fat found in the blood), increasing the risk of heart disease.
8 Hidden Sources
You can easily pinpoint added sugar in foods like cookies, cakes and pastries, but there are several less obvious offenders that may be surprising.
- Salad dressing: You probably wouldn’t be caught pouring a sugar packet over your greens, but with many salad dressings containing around 3 to 4 teaspoons of added sugar in just 2 tablespoons it’s essentially the same thing. Stick with oil and vinegar or make your own dressing
- Teriyaki Sauce: Marinades are inherently full of sugar with 2 tablespoons of teriyaki sauce containing about 1½ teaspoons. This can add up quickly when your food is swimming in sauce. To keep your sugar stats in check when dining out, choose grilled or steamed meat, poultry, or fish and ask for the sauce on the side. If you’re using teriyaki sauce at home, be mindful of portions.
- Yogurt: This popular dairy product can be part of a healthy breakfast or snack, but it gets kind of tricky with the sugar. All dairy products (like milk and yogurt) contain natural sugar called lactose. When it comes to flavored yogurts, food manufacturer’s take out some of the yogurt to make room for added sugars. This is why you will see a sugar amount listed for all yogurts but the flavored varieties will have much more. Skip the extra 7 teaspoons of added sugar in each 6 ounce flavored container and go for plain. Add flavor by topping with fresh fruit or 2 tablespoons of granola.
- Cereal: Buyer beware when it comes to cereal. Many varieties (including those with whole grains) have an average of 2 to 3 added teaspoons of sugar. Choose those with less than 8 grams of sugar per 1 ounce serving.
- Instant flavored oatmeal: While oatmeal is certainly a healthy way to start your day, steer clear of flavored varieties, which contain around 4 teaspoons of added sugar. Opt for plain and sweeten it to your liking with banana slices and cinnamon.
- Granola bars: Don’t be fooled by the oats, grains and nuts many of these seemingly healthy bars contain. They also typically have about 3 to 4 teaspoons of added sugar. As with cereal, look for bars with less than 8 grams of sugar.
- Tomato sauce: Although jarred and canned tomato sauce may not taste so sweet, each ½ cup serving can contain about 2 to 3 teaspoons of added sugar. If you aren’t interested in having dessert with your pasta, make your own sauce from scratch or compare ingredient lists on food labels.
- Flavored Coffee: Hazelnut and French vanilla may sound enticing, but beware of flavorings when it comes to your java. Flavored syrups pump up the added sugar and empty calories by about 4 teaspoons per fluid ounce.
Be label savvy
When reading the sugar on labels, it’s important to remember that both natural and added sugars are combined under “sugars.” Instead of solely relying on the grams of sugar, always read the ingredient list before purchasing packaged foods. Avoid products that list sugar as one of the first few ingredients or list it several times under other names, such as dextrose, fruit juice concentrate, malt syrup, molasses, cane juice, brown rice syrup or high fructose syrup.
Let’s chat: Which hidden source of sugar were you surprised to learn about?
Toby Amidor, MS RD is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in clinical nutrition and dietetics. She is the owner of Toby Amidor Nutrition, where she provides nutrition and food safety consulting services for various entities including FoodNetwork.com, Sears FitStudio, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and Bobby Deen’s Not My Mama’s Meals. For more information, visit her website http://tobyamidornutrition.com.