So, you’ve made it your mission to follow a healthier lifestyle. You’ve been exercising more, cutting out the fats, limiting your salt intake and staying away from the sweets. All good? Not so. Even if you don’t have a sweet tooth, you might still be eating far more sugar than you think. Sugar comes in many different guises and much of it is hidden in your favourite foods.
Manufacturers often add different kinds of sugars during the canning or packaging process, which adds more kilojoules to the food without any nutritional value. Like salt, sugar can also be used as a preservative to extend shelf life.
Read the ingredient list of your favourite convenience food. There’s a good chance that it includes sugar. The best-known sugars are fructose (“fruit sugar”) and sucrose (“table sugar”). But they are also often listed by another name: honey, dextrose, fructose, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, sorbitol, fruit juice concentrate, galactose, lactose, polydextrose, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, maltodextrin and turbinado sugar.
Sugars, along with starches and dietary fibres, fall into the carbohydrate group. When broken down in the body, sugars and starches provide 16kJ of energy per gram. Too much sugar can play havoc with your blood glucose levels and increase your risk for diabetes. It may also cause obesity, and increase your risk for high cholesterol and heart disease. It has even been linked to cancer.
Maximum 12 teaspoons of sugar per day
The World Health Organisation recommends consuming no more than 10 percent of your daily kilojoules in sugar. Using this rule, and based on an 8 000 kilo joule-per-day diet, sugar consumption should be no more than 800 kilojoules per day, or approximately 50 grams of sugar.
If one teaspoon of sugar equals four grams, this means your total sugar intake per day should be no more than 12 teaspoons of sugar. This may sound generous enough, but if you think that one can of soda alone already equals 40 grams (or 10 teaspoons of sugar) or one cup of your favourite cereal could contain up to 20 grams (or 5 teaspoons of sugar), you don’t really have much to work with.
Have a look at the list of foods with hidden sugar to learn how you can cut your sugar intake and live a healthier life today.
Oatmeal, which is naturally low in sugar, makes a very healthy breakfast if you dress it up with nuts and fruit. But the pre-packaged, flavored variety is often packed with loads of added sugar.
Protein is a smart snack option because it keeps you full longer than carbohydrates. But protein bars can be problematic because they’re sometimes filled with sugar to make them taste better. Unsalted almonds or peanuts are a healthier choice.
This is a tricky one. Salad dressing, especially the low-fat variety, can contain a lot of sugar. Opt for vinegar or lemon juice with olive oil instead.
Granola gets a bad rap for being fattier than many people realize. But it often comes coated with tons of sugar, too.
You probably know whole milk contains saturated fat, but all milk contains sugar. Pair it with sugary cereal or oatmeal and you could be in for one heck of a morning sugar crash. (And don’t even ask us about sugary milk drinks.)
Adding a pinch of sugar to marinara sauce is a common trick cooks use to cut the acid from the tomatoes. But packaged varieties take this practice too far, stuffing jars with tons of corn syrup because it thickens the sauce–and is therefore cheaper to make.
Like canned vegetables, most canned soups have added sugar to extend their shelf life – some brands can contain several teaspoons of sugar per serving. Read the labels of canned soups before you put them into your grocery basket or better yet, cook your own vegetable soup at home.
In its natural state, tea contains no sugar. The trouble begins with the sweetened varieties that come in those familiar glass or plastic bottles–some have almost as many grams of sugar as a Coke.
Fruit naturally has a lot of sugar, but some food companies insist on dusting it with even more.
There’s reason ketchup goes so well with salty French fries–the sweetness from the sugar it contains balances the flavor. (The same is true for barbecue sauce.)
Maybe you’ve heard that sports drinks contain sugar. But think of it like this: one drink has 310 calories. A 150 pound person would have to run for 3 miles to burn that off. Kind of reduces the benefit of working out, huh?
There’s nothing better than a slice of toast with peanut butter. One of the reasons it’s so delicious is the high amount of added sugar. The sugar content varies by brand, so it’s a good idea to compare labels. The sugar content is mostly listed under carbohydrates (“of which sugars”) and listed in grams. Divide the number of grams by four to calculate the teaspoons of sugar per portion.
Most of us prefer the flavored ones but they all contain added sugar – even the low-fat and non-fat versions. Some brands of flavored yoghurts contain up to 20 grams (or 5 teaspoons) of sugar per serving – that equals a big piece of fudge per “healthy” yoghurt serving. Rather opt for plain yoghurt and add fresh fruit and honey to sweeten it.
Have a look at the ingredient list of your favourite breakfast cereal. Most breakfast cereals are loaded with sugar to make it more palatable. The classic cornflakes contain about 5 to 7g of sugar per 100g, meaning a 50g portion will contain half to one teaspoon of sugar. The “healthier” high-fibre, all bran flakes contain up to 11g of sugar per 100g or around one and a half teaspoons of sugar. The sweeter flavored cereals that kids (and many adults) love so much contain up to 34g of sugar per 100g. That’s a whopping four teaspoons of sugar per 50g portion!
Many brands of canned vegetables contain hidden sugars that are used during the manufacturing process to make their shelf life longer. Have a look at the ingredient list to see whether any sugar has been added and, if you must have sweetened veggies, choose a brand with the lowest sugar content. The best option is still to cook fresh vegetables and add a sprinkling of sugar at the end to satisfy your taste buds.
Bread and rolls
Though it may be obvious that some bread such as raisin, carrot or banana bread have sugar in them, many breads and rolls (both white and whole-wheat) also contain sugar. Some bread contains as much as a teaspoon of sugar per slice, so check the labels before buying. Check out bakeries or local markets for healthier bread options or consider baking your own bread.
No surprises that fast food makes the list! Fast foods have too much of everything: salt, fats, empty kilojoules and sugar. Most people know that fast food is not good for you, but even if you stay away from sweet sodas, milkshakes and desserts, the hamburgers, fries and, even the salads, could all contain some form of hidden sugar. If you can’t stay away from fast food, check out the ingredients very carefully to make smarter choices and try to keep your intake to the minimum.