Top 10 Sneaky Sugar Foods

It’s hard enough to limit sugar in sweet foods we eat, much less foods that shouldn’t have added sugar.

According to Dr. Donald D. Hensrud, an associate professor of Preventive Medicine and Nutrition at the Mayo Clinic, who was quoted in the ABC News article American Diet Too Sweet for the Heart’s Health, “Strictly from a health standpoint, sugar is a ‘triple threat’ – it provides extra calories, no nutrients, and it may displace other foods and nutrients in the diet that are more beneficial.”

The American Heart Association  recommends limiting the amount of added sugars you consume to no more than half of your daily discretionary calorie allowance. For most American women, that is no more than 100 calories per day, which is 6 teaspoons of sugar. For men it’s 150 calories per day, or 9 teaspoons. With each teaspoon of sugar weight 3.94 grams, that adds up quickly.

Since I’ve been trying to limit added sugars I’ve been surprised at the amount of sugar in everyday products. I’ve learned a lesson that I need to read the labels and check out the ingredients list on everything! I’ve even noticed that added sugars vary by brand as well.

Another tip for limiting added sugars that may surprise you; stay away from light or low-fat versions of your favorite foods. When manufacturer’s take out the fat, they add in the sugar, usually making the “light” versions have more added sugar than the originals.

Want to know which one of your favorite foods “sneak” in sugar? I did some detective work in my pantry so you don’ have to and compiled this list of the top ten sneaky sugar foods.

1.     Salad Dressings

Salad dressing is an example of a product in which the light or low-fat versions have more sugar than the regular. For example, Kraft Buttermilk Ranch Dressing has 2 grams of carbohydrate per serving, while the fat-free version contains 11 grams. Typically we think of vinaigrette as a healthy salad dressing choice, but no so for Briannas’ Blush Wine Vinaigrette which has a whopping 14 grams of sugar for a measly two tablespoon server.

2.     Ketchup

I grew up on Heinz Ketchup and I won’t eat any other brand. Although I love ketchup, I’d rather go without than have Hunt’s or (shudder) store-brand ketchup. So imagine my disappointment when I read the label for my beloved Heinz Ketchup to find that it not only has 4 grams of sugar per each measly tablespoon, but it has high fructose corn syrup and corn syrup as the 3rd and 4th ingredients respectively.

3.     Yogurt

Flavored yogurts have added sugars, even the non-fat and “light” versions. Some brands of flavored yogurt can even have up to 35 grams per serving! Don’t let the “organic” label fool you either. Horizon Organic fat-free vanilla yogurt has 24 grams of sugar per 6-ounce container. Compare this to plain non-fat Greek yogurt, which has only 9 grams of naturally occurring sugar and no added sugars.

4.     Whole Wheat Bread

My favorite whole wheat bread, Arnold Healthfull™, whose tagline is “with protein & fiber to help satisfy your hunger”, has five different types of sugar and stevia (artificial sweetener.) At two grams of sugar per slice, it doesn’t sound like a lot, but this is bread that claims to be “heathfull” and it still contains sugar. At least the two grams in the “heathfull” slice is better than the whopping 10 grams of sugar found per Sara Lee plain bagels! The only bread that I’ve found that does not have sugar is the Ezekiel 3:19 brand of sprouted bread.

5.     Tomato Products

Sugar is added to tomato based products to improve their flavor if they are picked before they ripen and to give the optimal sugar-acid balance. Tomatoes have 5 grams of sugar naturally, so if the product contains anything over that, it is most likely added sugar. Unfortunately I found that my favorite spaghetti sauce, Hunt’s, has sugar. Bummer.

6. Peanut Butter

Peanut butter is a great example of a product in which the sugar content varies by brand. Skippy “Natural” peanut butter (I don’t know what is natural about this product since it contains sugar) misleads consumers in thinking their product is free of additives, however it contains 3 grams of sugar. Choose the Smuckers natural peanut butter instead, it only has two ingredients: peanuts and salt. Even better, grind your own peanut butter at your local health food grocery store, such as Earth Fare, Whole Foods or Fresh Market.

7.     Cereal

Kellogg’s Smart Start “Original Antioxidants” cereal used to be my cereal of choice. From the outside this cereal appears to be healthy. Their box claims “Good source of fiber“and “Made with Whole Grain.” A large banner across the front of the box touts “Strong Heart” and their website proclaims that “little things add up to positive changes when it comes to your heart.” However, I don’t think your heart would appreciate the whopping 14 grams of sugar per cup. Your heart also doesn’t benefit from the 14 various forms of sugar that are mentioned in the ingredient list. The added sugar makes this cereal not such as smart way to start your day.

8.     Granola and Granola Bars

There seems to be a misconception that granola is healthy. Some even use the term “granola” to describe someone who eats naturally and heathfully, but most granolas are anything but healthy. Take for example the popular Quaker Natural Granola Oats Honey and Raisins. This innocent sounding granola has 30 grams of sugar per cup! That’s 7 ½ teaspoons of added sugar. I’d rather have ice cream.

Many granola bars are also full of sugar. I picked up a Nature Valley Chewy Granola bar for my kids as a quick breakfast and I found nine different types of sugar in this small bar! Wow, I could have just given my kids a candy bar and sent them out the door.

9.     Canned Vegetables

Every Thanksgiving, and lately Christmas too, I make my Grandma’s famous sweet potato casserole. I know that’s not exactly a health food, but I figured that between the sweet potatoes and pecans, I was getting some health benefit from this dish. Well, I had been using canned sweet potatoes, which I didn’t realize were “in light syrup” on the can. One 2/3 cup serving has 17 grams of sugar and it has both corn syrup and sugar in the small ingredient list. Next year I will bake and mash fresh sweet potatoes and kick the can to the curb.

10.  Sauces and marinades

I was shocked when I read the label of my favorite barbecue sauce, Sweet Baby Ray’s Honey Barbecue. I slather this delicious sauce on everything from chicken to baked beans to meatloaf. Call me naïve, but I always assumed that it just had a bit of honey in it, but when I read the label I discovered that the number one ingredient was high fructose corn syrup. Number 1! But wait, it gets better; Sweet Baby Ray must have decided that it wasn’t sweet enough, so it also has honey, pineapple juice concentrate, molasses and sugar. That is five different types of sugar. I would love to see the breakdown of how much of this product is just sugar, compared to the other ingredients. 2 tablespoons (which I’m sure I consume a lot more than that) has 15 grams of sugar. That definitely will make me think twice before taking a dip with this sauce.

After doing this research, I’m going to try to limit the added sugars that my family consumes from these seemingly innocent products. If I’m going to have sugar, I want ice cream, not barbeque sauce. Were you surprised by any of the items on this list? Do you watch your sugar? Would love to hear from you!