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10 Surprising Foods with Added Sugars

December 7th, 2017

By Natalie Stein, BS Food Science, BS Nutritional Sciences, MS Human Nutrition, MPH Public Health

If you could point to one culprit in your diet, it might be added sugars. They bring calories without essential nutrients, drive up your blood sugar levels, and contribute to diabetes and other chronic diseases. The World Health Organization recommends limiting your sugar intake to no more than 5% of your total calories. For someone on a 2,000-calorie diet, that works out to 24 grams of sugar, or 6 teaspoons.

Some foods with added sugars are obvious; they include candy, soft drinks, and desserts. Other sources of sugar, though, sneak into your diet, usually by way of processed foods. Check the labels of the following foods before you buy them, because they can be surprisingly high in sugar.

  1. Yogurt. Fruit-flavored yogurt sounds like a nutritional bargain, with a mixture of protein and probiotics from the yogurt, and fiber and antioxidants from fruit. The trouble is that the “fruit” is often a mixture of sugar and flavoring, not real fruit. The result is that a container of fruit-flavored yogurt can have 24 grams of sugar. That is your entire daily limit from a food you thought was healthy! Do yourself a favor by choosing plain yogurt and adding fresh or frozen peaches, blueberries, or other fruit.

  2. Spaghetti Sauce. Think again if you thought that store-bought spaghetti sauce was a wholesome mixture of tomatoes and herbs. It can actually be a source of added sugars, often in the form of high-fructose corn syrup. A half-cup of marinara sauce can half 7 grams of sugar, or nearly 2 teaspoons. Are you sure you want to put two spoonfuls of sugar on your pasta? Instead, make your own easy marinara sauce with fresh or stewed canned tomatoes, olive oil, onions, garlic, and herbs. Make it chunky with mushrooms, zucchini, or bell peppers, or make it meaty with lean ground turkey.

  3. Instant Oatmeal. Nothing feels as virtuous as oatmeal for breakfast, but are you really being as good as you think? A packet of flavored oatmeal, such as apple cinnamon, peaches and cream, or maple brown sugar, can have 12 grams of sugar. That means you will have half your daily sugar limit before you have barely woken up. Avoid added sugars by making plain oatmeal and adding healthy options such as apples or pumpkin with cinnamon; peaches; berries; or sliced banana and walnuts.

  4. Ready-to-Eat Breakfast Cereals. Some cereals, such as kid-focused fruit-flavored loops, cinnamon sugar squares, and chocolate cookie cereals are obviously sugar bombs, but some cereals are surprisingly high in sugar. A serving of raisin bran has 20 grams of sugar, for example. To avoid an overly sugary breakfast or snack, read the label and choose an unsweetened, whole-grain cereal with no more than 3 grams of sugar per serving. Plain Cheerios, shredded wheat, Corn, Rice, or Wheat Chex, and Fiber One are all good choices.

  5. Dairy-Free Milk Substitutes. Almond, coconut, and soy milk let you avoid dairy products and the sugar called lactose that is in milk, but you may be getting a hefty dose of added sugar instead. Original, vanilla, and chocolate-flavored non-dairy milk can have 9 grams of sugar. You are better off cutting calories and sugar, and getting your calcium from unsweetened varieties instead.

  6. Dried Fruit. Dried fruit can have 12 grams of added sugars, and nearly 30 grams of total sugars, and that is in a single ¼-cup serving. Grab a handful of dried fruit, and you can easily get 60 grams of sugar from something you thought was healthy. Dried pineapples, mangoes, and cranberries are among the types of dried fruit that are most likely to have added sugar. To avoid it, read the list of ingredients and select types without sugar. Better yet, opt for fresh fruit, which has a much larger serving size. You can have an entire cup of grapes or a large apple instead of a quarter-cup of raisins or apple rings, and you will not have to worry about preservatives, such as sulfites, that are in dried fruit.

  7. Granola Bars. Granola bars seem like the ultimate health food, with whole-grain oats, heart-healthy nuts and seeds, and fibrous fruit. Unfortunately, the package often comes with unhealthy hydrogenated fats, as well as honey, sugar, or cane juice - all added sugars. You can get a more satisfying snack, with no added sugars, with any combination of whole grains, nuts or peanuts, and fresh fruit. Try apple slices with peanut butter, whole-grain toast with almond butter, or half a whole-grain English muffin with mashed banana and walnuts.

  8. Canned Soup. What do a serving of tomato soup and a serving of vanilla ice cream have in common? They each have about half your daily limit for sugar. A cup of canned tomato soup has 12 grams of sugar, and it is not your only sugar soup option. When choosing canned soup, opt for low-sodium versions with no more than 2 grams of sugar per cup.

  9. Chocolate. We all know that milk chocolate is sugar-laden, but did you know that dark chocolate is not always as innocent as it sounds? An ounce of dark chocolate can have 10 grams of sugar. That certainly puts a damper on the health benefits from the antioxidants in chocolate. You can limit the sugar by choosing higher-percent dark chocolate and sticking to a 1-ounce serving size, and skip the sugar entirely by choosing 100% chocolate or unsweetened chocolate.

  10. Ketchup. Ketchup may be your go-to condiment, but each ounce has as much sugar as a fun-size Snickers bar. Ketchup is not the only condiment culprit, though. Barbecue sauce, teriyaki sauce, and many low-fat salad dressings and vinaigrettes have more sugar than you might think. Stick with sugarless alternatives, such as mustard for burgers or olive oil and vinegar for salads, or find condiments with no more than 4 grams of sugar per serving, and stick to a single serving size.

It is hard enough to stay under a daily goal of 24 grams of sugars without getting extra sugars from hidden sources. All of the above foods can sneak in a big dose of sugar without you even realizing it, but you can protect yourself from a sugar overload by staying aware and reading labels. By avoiding some of these hidden sugars, you can lower diabetes risk and control your weight better. Your Lark health coach can give you more tips for health and weight loss as you use the app, so make Lark part of your regular health routine!