Succumbing to sweets can lead to serious consequences. Obesity, heart disease, diabetes and dental cavities are just a few of the health conditions that may be caused by a high sugar diet.
As a nation, we’re piling on the sugar. According to the USDA, the average American consumes about 32 teaspoons of added sweeteners per day. That’s nearly three times the recommended consumption. “The 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommend Americans limit added sugars to no more than 10 percent of their daily calorie needs. That’s about 12 teaspoons (48 grams of sugar) on a 2,000-calorie diet,” says Wesley Delbridge, RDN, a national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.
Even if you’ve decided it’s time to cut back on sugar, it isn’t as simple as just saying no to soda, cookies and cake. Added sweeteners lurk in unexpected places and can sneak into your diet, even if you regularly scour ingredient labels for the word “sugar”.
“On a nutrition label, sugar may appear under many names,” says Delbridge. “Some of the most common ones include cane sugar, evaporated cane juice, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, raw sugar and crystal solids. And don’t forget brown sugar, honey, maple syrup and brown rice syrup.”
In addition to misleading labels, many seemingly healthy foods can also wreak havoc on your daily sugar intake. Here are 7 foods that appear to be virtuous, but serve up an unhealthy dose of the sweet stuff.
Yogurt has a lot going for it: it’s high in protein and calcium and is a good source of probiotics. But not all yogurt is created equal when it comes to sugar content. While a 6-ounce serving of plain Greek yogurt has just 7 grams of sugar, the same serving of Dannon Fruit-on-the-Bottom Lowfat Blueberry yogurt has a whopping 26 grams.
Manufacturers sneak sweeteners into yogurt “because plain yogurt can be bitter, and low-fat or fat-free yogurt can have a different ‘mouth-feel’”, says Delbridge. “Added sugar can make the yogurt taste better and also provide the missing mouth-feel that comes from being low-fat”. Opt for plain, unflavored yogurt that forgoes the added sweetener.
Fruit is good for you, and fruit in a can is more convenient and lasts longer than fresh fruit. By all appearances, canned fruit should be an easy, guilt-free treat. But unless you read labels carefully, you could bust your entire recommended daily sugar allowance with just one serving of canned fruit. A one-cup serving of canned peaches in heavy syrup has 49 grams of sugar.
You can reduce your sugar intake by 75% simply by choosing canned fruit without added sweetener. The same serving of canned peaches packed in water has just 12 grams of sugar.
Tomato sauce seems like an innocent topping for a plate of pasta. But skim the list of ingredients and you’ll likely find a sweetener listed alongside the veggies. “Tomatoes can be bitter so added sugar helps level out the taste,” says Delbridge. A half-cup serving of Prego traditional pasta sauce has 10 grams of sugar.
Packaged for convenience, granola bars can be a healthy snack to grab when you’re on the go. However, be wary when choosing which bar to eat. Sugar contents vary from bar to bar. On the low end of the sugar scale are Kashi Chewy Granola Bars, with just 5 grams. At the high end, a serving of Nutri-Grain Fruit Crunch Granola Bars has 15 grams. Check labels carefully before snacking.
Low-fat salad dressings
Low-fat salad dressings add pizzazz to a bowl of fresh, healthy vegetables. But while you pour on the flavor, you might also be pouring on the sugar. Delbridge explains that when fat is removed from salad dressing, manufacturers add sweeteners to improve its flavor and mouth-feel (as they do with low-fat or fat-free yogurt).
A tasty alternative is to make your own dressing at home with simple ingredients. A blend of extra-virgin olive oil, vinegar, and fresh herbs makes a flavorful dressing with 0 grams of added sugar.
Whole Grain Cereals
It’s no surprise that breakfast cereals with names like Cookie Crisp, Smorz, and Honey Monster Puffs (previously known as Sugar Puffs) are virtual sugar bombs. More shocking is the amount of sweetener found in whole grain cereals. Post Raisin Bran Cereal has 21 grams of sugar in a one-cup serving, and a packet of Quaker Oats Instant Oatmeal has 15 grams.
Even if a cereal sounds wholesome, Delbridge suggests reading the ingredients and opting for cereals with no added sweetener.
Because most bread doesn’t taste sweet, you might not think to look for sugar among the ingredients. However, if you check out the labels on most store-bought bread, you’ll find that even whole-grain varieties can have as much as 5 grams per slice.
Many of the foods on the list can be made from scratch at home, where you decide how much sweetener to add or not. What you sacrifice in convenience, you’ll gain in confidence that you’re in control of your sugar intake. “Start slowly by reducing the sugar in the recipe each time you make it so you and your family can gradually become adjusted to the more natural flavor,” advises Delbridge.
Wesley Delbridge, RDN – National Media Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics
USDA – Agriculture Fact Book