Headlines keep telling us that too much sugar is not good for your health. And when it comes to excessive sugar consumption, it’s usually the added sugar that’s to blame. After all, natural sugars, those found in whole, unprocessed foods like fructose in fruits or lactose in dairy products, provide the body with the energy it needs in adequate amounts and are often associated with nutrients like fiber or protein. Added sugars, on the other hand, are digested quickly and cause blood sugar levels to skyrocket, creating a cascade of metabolically damaging reactions. High intake of added sugars can lead to fatty liver disease, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and systemic inflammation. They are often linked to overweight and obesity. »
Added sugars shouldn’t contribute more than 10% of daily calories, research shows that 3 out of 4 people eat more than that.
If you don’t add sugar to your foods, you might think you have nothing to worry about, but many foods that don’t fall into the dessert category can be surprisingly high in added sugars. Processed foods, many of which aren’t even sweet, make up 90% of all added sugars people consume, according to a 2016 study published in the BMJ Journal.
1 flavored yogurt
Shouldn’t yogurt be on the right list? Well yes, but it depends on the type of yogurt you buy. For example, fruit-based varieties generally have more added sugar than fruit. Read the ingredients. If sugar is among the first three ingredients, leave the item on the shelf. And know that sugar can have over 60 names, including cane juice and corn syrup, in the ingredient lists. Or opt for plain yogurt to start and add your own ingredients. Cinnamon, fresh fruit, fruit puree, unsweetened applesauce, roasted, unsalted nuts and seeds are great additions to provide flavor with no added sugars.
2 canned soups
You’ve heard that canned soups are high in sodium. But did you know that it can also be stuffed with this sweet product? Tomato-based soups are generally the highest in sugar. Some condensed soups contain up to 15 grams (g) of sugar per 1.5 cups. Sugar reduces the acidity of tomatoes to balance out the flavor, so be sure to check soup labels carefully before you buy, especially when it comes to tomato-based varieties.
3 salad dressing
Dressing is one of the main ways a seemingly healthy salad can instantly go from being a good choice to a dietary disaster. But it’s not just because of the fats that salad dressing tends to contain. Some salad dressings contain up to 6g of sugar per serving. And it turns out that the low-fat and fat-free versions tend to be the highest in added sugars. When manufacturers remove fat from a product, they often add more sugar to replace the flavor.
Your best option? Try using hummus, tzatziki, citrus juices, vinegar, and even fruit puree to season your salads in an easy and healthy way.
4 tomato sauce
Canned tomato sauces are convenient, but they can be sneaky sources of sugar, often added to soften the sour taste of tomatoes and keep canned sauces fresher for longer. Again, it’s not the natural sugars that are at issue, but glucose syrup and other added sugars. And some potted sauces contain up to 4g in half a cup. If you’re having trouble finding sauces that are low in sugar or with no added sugar, try a can of plain diced tomatoes. Just drain the juices, puree them and add your own seasonings for a quick sugar-free sauce. You might end up creating a sauce you love more than anything you can find on the shelves.
5 fruit juices
Fruit juices are definitely not all created equal. Some varieties of fruit juice, for example, contain only pure orange juice. Other beverages labeled as fruit juice are loaded with added sugars and other ingredients. Check product labels and look for juices that only list fruit juice in the ingredients list or say “100% juice” or “no added sugar” somewhere on the label. Or, better yet, opt for the whole fruit. Bonus: Research has shown that choosing whole fruits like apples and grapes over their juice equivalents can help reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes.
6 cereal bars and snacks
Did you eat a chocolate bar for breakfast? Cereal bars and snacks often look much healthier than they actually are. Some brands contain up to 11g of sugar per bar, and you can find white flour in the ingredients list. Avoid bars with sugar in the first three ingredients. There are some that contain very little, if any, added sugar. You might also consider snacking on a handful of whole nuts and whole or unsweetened dried fruit. (We’ll come back to nuts later).
7 dried fruits
Dried fruits tend to look much healthier than they are. A single handful of dried cranberries, for example, can contain up to 27 g of added sugar, in addition to the sugars naturally present in the fruit. Sugar levels tend to be higher in dried fruits that are naturally sour. Look for options that include only fruit as an ingredient and no added sugar. These products usually have the “no added sugar” statement on the front.