When people make changes to improve their diet, the first change I hear people talk about cutting is SUGAR.
And most of the time, it doesn’t take long for people to realize that it’s much easier said than done. And before we get too far into this, I’m talking about added sugar. Not naturally occurring sugars in fruits and veggies! Gotta be clear about that.
Here are some common foods to look out for if you’re working on your sugar intake.
First, why is sugar added to so many foods?
Brands add sugar to food for more than just flavor! They also add it for:
Texture – Yep, sugar helps with texture! Have you ever noticed that sugar-free ice cream just isn’t as creamy and smooth as “normal” ice cream? Sugar is a bulking agent that helps give ice cream the texture we all know and love. It’s also what gives baked goods the soft, tender mouthfeel that makes them melt in our mouths.
Foods with yeast also like sugar. If you’ve ever baked bread, you know that yeast needs “food” in order to come to life and release gas, which is what makes bread rise! Sugar is a preferred ingredient to help this process happen.
Color – It’s added to foods to help with color and browning.
To preserve foods – Sometimes it’s all about shelf life! That’s why things like jams and jellies are PACKED with sugar. It helps with the canning process and makes these foods shelf-stable. It binds water (usually more water = higher chance of spoilage) to limit bacterial growth.
To balance other flavors – Some flavors just taste too acidic or tangy on their own. Sugar is added to balance these flavors out, even if the food it’s added to isn’t meant to taste sweet.
The amount of sugar in yogurt varies A TON. Some have enough to literally be more like a dessert.
If the kind you buy is flavored, chances are it’s on the higher side. However, this is where actually looking at the label is important! Yogurt is dairy, so it’s going to have some naturally-occurring sugar. If it has fruit it in it, that will add some natural sugar too. What you want to look for is the amount of “added sugar.”
On the other hand, a lot of “sugar-free” yogurts exist too. Those just replace sugar with sugar substitutes – which is fine for most people, but could cause tummy troubles or might not taste as good for others.
If you’re trying to limit added sugar in your diet, your best bet is to buy unflavored, unsweetened yogurt and add your own fruit or sweeten with just a little honey.
2. Granola Bars
Products like granola bars can be realllllly tricky, because so many are marketed as healthy when they really have just as much sugar as a cookie. If you know what to look for, granola bars are an awesome and healthy convenient snack.
Look for bars with simple ingredients, and keep added sugar to a minimum. If you’re someone who likes to cook, homemade granola bars are AMAZING and you can control the amount of sugar that goes into them.
3. Dried Fruit
I had no idea for sooo long that a lot of brands add sugar to dried fruit! But it’s true!
Most of the time, they’ll have 2 ingredients: the fruit and sugar. Obviously there are plenty of brands that don’t add sugar too, but it’s good to be aware! Especially if you love to snack on dried fruit or add it to your salads.
4. Sauces and Salad Dressings
Some sauces are obviously filled with sugar. I mostly think of condiments like barbecue sauce and ketchup. And I used to think even those things were harmless because we only use a little, right? But it gets realllly interesting if you actually pay attention or measure how much you use just once! The sugar can really add up.
One sauce with hidden sugar that might surprise you is jarred pasta sauce! It’s often added to these sauces to balance out the acidity from tomatoes. However, there are some brands out there that offer “no sugar added” options!
Same thing for salad dressing! And you know what else surprised me? The ones touting to be “light” or “fat-free” sometimes just pack MORE SUGAR. So be aware, check the label, or make your own if sugar is something you’re keeping an eye on.
5. Instant Oatmeal
Oatmeal is another one that surprised me! Some of the “big brand” instant oatmeal packets have up to 12 grams of added sugar. And honestly, I don’t feel like one packet is a very big portion!
The packets are definitely convenient and still a great fiber-filled option if you need something easy, but I’m thinking making your own topped with fresh fruit (ahh and maybe nut butter!) would be more tasty, less sugary and more filling.
I think we all know that things like soda, sweet tea, lemonade, etc are LOADED with sugar.
But what about some drinks that are marketed as “healthier” options? Some sports drinks and energy drinks may surprise you with just how much hidden sugar they contain. And if you’re a coffee shop lover? Chances are the sugar in your latte is a lot more than you might guess!
While we’re here, let’s talk about kombucha. Kombucha is fermented, which is one reason we love it! But fermentation requires some sugar. Some companies add more sugar (some add a ton or add juice) during production. It’s a little tricky because some of the sugar is metabolized during fermentation. But some is leftover, and a recent study found major discrepancies in how much sugar was listed on the label vs. how much was ACTUALLY in the kombucha. Interesting!
This is another one a lot of people don’t think of as a “sugary” food! Including me!
Some brands of sliced bread add sugar for a softer texture and that pretty, caramel coloring. The amount might not be as high as some other foods on this list, but it’s worth being aware if you’re looking for ways to cut back.
Have you ever been to a smoothie shop and noticed that they’re not using fresh fruit? Some shops use a syrupy fruit “mixture” instead, which usually means you’ll be sipping on more sugar than actual fruit. Some things to look for when you’re ordering a smoothie:
- Are they using real fruit?
- Are they adding any juice, honey, etc?
- Are they adding anything like frozen yogurt to make it nice and thick? (YUM, but usually full of sugar).
Of course, if the nutrition info is available, you’re going to notice a lot of sugar either way. Most of this is natural sugar coming from the fruit! But if there’s a bunch of other added stuff, that smoothie probably isn’t any better than hitting up your local Dairy Queen.
I feel like I need to mention bottled smoothies that you find at the grocery store here. Those can be sooo misleading, promising X amount of fruits and veggies and sometimes extra protein. But if you check the label, you might find a lot more extra sugar is added.
9. Nut Butter
While you’re busy checking labels, go ahead and check your nut butter!
A lot of brands contain some added sugar, even though it might not be enough to be concerned about. That’s totally not the case for things like Nutella though!
Yep, your favorite BBQ rub, taco seasoning, or chili seasoning might have some hidden sugar. Of course the amount is going to be pretty small, but it’s still worth mentioning for anyone who decides to go sugar-free.
How to spot hidden sugar on the label
If you’re on the lookout for hidden sugar, then you need to know what to look for on the label. First, food labels now specify “added sugar,” which is super helpful. But how much is too much? Well, the American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar to 25 grams for women and 36 grams per day for men.
Next, be aware that the ingredients list may use other names for hidden sugar, such as: names that end in “ose,” molasses, corn syrup, cane juice, honey, syrup, fruit juice concentrates, and beet sugar.
So, did any of these foods surprise you?!!
Obviously we don’t have to avoid all of them all the time. But if you feel like you could benefit from eating less sugar, it’s good to know where it may be hiding in your favorite foods!