18 Foods and Drinks That Are Surprisingly High in Sugar
It has been linked to an increased risk of many diseases, including obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.
Many people are now trying to minimize their sugar intake, but it's easy to underestimate how much you're actually consuming.
One of the reasons is that many foods contain hidden sugars, including some foods that you wouldn't even consider to be sweet.
In fact, even products marketed as "light" or "low fat" often contain more sugar than their regular counterparts.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that women limit their added sugar intake to 6 teaspoons (25 grams) per day, while men should limit their intake to 9 teaspoons (37.5 grams).
Here are 18 foods and drinks that contain way more sugar than you'd think.
1. Low Fat Yogurt
Yogurt can be highly nutritious. However, not all yogurt is created equal.
Like many other low fat products, low fat yogurts have sugar added to them to enhance flavor.
For example, a single cup (245 grams) of low fat yogurt can contain over 45 grams of sugar, which is about 11 teaspoons. This is more than the daily limit for men and women in just a single cup of "healthy" yogurt.
Furthermore, low fat yogurt doesn't seem to have the same health benefits as full fat yogurt.
It's best to choose full fat, natural, or Greek yogurt. Avoid yogurt that has been sweetened with sugar.
2. Barbecue (BBQ) Sauce
Barbecue (BBQ) sauce can make a tasty marinade or dip.
However, 2 tablespoons (around 28 grams) of sauce can contain around 9 grams of sugar. This is over 2 teaspoons worth.
In fact, around 33% of the weight of BBQ sauce may be pure sugar.
If you're liberal with your servings, this makes it easy to consume a lot of sugar without meaning to.
To make sure you aren't getting too much, check the labels and choose the sauce with the least amount of added sugar. Also, remember to watch your portions.
Ketchup is one of the most popular condiments worldwide, but — like BBQ sauce — it's often loaded with sugar.
Try to be mindful of your portion size when using ketchup, and remember that a single tablespoon of ketchup contains nearly 1 teaspoon of sugar.
4. Fruit Juice
Like whole fruit, fruit juice contains some vitamins and minerals.
However, despite seeming like a healthy choice, these vitamins and minerals come with a large dose of sugar and very little fiber.
It usually takes a lot of fruit to produce a single glass of fruit juice, so you get much more sugar in a glass of juice than you would get by eating whole fruit. This makes it easy to consume a large amount of sugar quickly.
In fact, there can be just as much sugar in fruit juice as there is in a sugary drink like Coke. The poor health outcomes that have been convincingly linked to sugary soda may also be linked to fruit juices.
It's best to choose whole fruit and minimize your intake of fruit juices.
5. Spaghetti Sauce
Added sugars are often hidden in foods that we don't even consider to be sweet, such as spaghetti sauce.
All spaghetti sauces will contain some natural sugar given that they're made with tomatoes.
However, many spaghetti sauces contain added sugar as well.
The best way to ensure you aren't getting any unwanted sugar in your pasta sauce is to make your own.
However, if you need to buy premade spaghetti sauce, check the label and pick one that either doesn't have sugar on the ingredient list or has it listed very close to the bottom. This indicates that it's not a major ingredient.
6. Sports Drinks
Sports drinks can often be mistaken as a healthy choice for those who exercise.
However, sports drinks are designed to hydrate and fuel trained athletes during prolonged, intense periods of exercise.
For this reason, they contain high amounts of added sugars that can be quickly absorbed and used for energy.
Sports drinks are therefore categorized as sugary drinks. Like soda and fruit juice, they've also been linked to obesity and metabolic disease.
Unless you're a marathon runner or elite athlete, you should probably just stick to water while exercising. It's by far the best choice for most of us.
7. Chocolate Milk
Chocolate milk is milk that has been flavored with cocoa and sweetened with sugar.
Milk itself is a very nutritious drink. It's a rich source of nutrients that are great for bone health, including calcium and protein.
However, despite having all the nutritious qualities of milk, an 8-ounce (230-mL) glass of chocolate milk comes with an extra 11.4 grams (2.9 teaspoons) of added sugar.
Granola is often marketed as a low fat health food, despite being high in both calories and sugar.
The main ingredient in granola is oats. Plain rolled oats are a well-balanced cereal containing carbs, protein, fat, and fiber.
However, the oats in granola have been combined with nuts and honey or other added sweeteners, which increases the amount of sugar and calories.
In fact, 100 grams of granola contain around 400–500 calories and nearly 5–7 teaspoons of sugar.
If you like granola, try choosing one with less added sugar or making your own. You can also add it as a topping to fruit or yogurt rather than pouring a whole bowl.
9. Flavored Coffees
Flavored coffee is a popular trend, but the amount of hidden sugars in these drinks can be staggering.
In some coffeehouse chains, a large flavored coffee or coffee drink can contain 45 grams of sugar, if not much more. That's equivalent to about 11 teaspoons of added sugar per serving.
Considering the strong link between sugary drinks and poor health, it's probably best to stick to coffee without any flavored syrups or added sugar.
10. Iced Tea
Iced tea is usually sweetened with sugar or flavored with syrup.
It's popular in various forms and flavors around the world, and this means the sugar content can vary slightly.
Most commercially prepared iced teas will contain around 35 grams of sugar per 12-ounce (340-mL) serving. This is about the same as a bottle of Coke.
If you like tea, pick regular tea or choose iced tea that doesn't have any sugars added.
11. Protein Bars
Protein bars are a popular snack.
Foods that contain protein have been linked to increased feelings of fullness, which can aid weight loss.
This has led people to believe that protein bars are a healthy snack.
While there are some healthier protein bars on the market, many contain around 20 grams of added sugar, making their nutritional content similar to that of a candy bar.
When choosing a protein bar, read the label and avoid those that are high in sugar. You can also eat a high protein food such as yogurt instead.
Vitaminwater is marketed as a healthy drink that contains added vitamins and minerals.
However, like many other "health drinks," Vitaminwater comes with a large amount of added sugar.
As such, despite all the health claims, it's wise to avoid Vitaminwater as much as possible.
You could opt for Vitaminwater zero, the sugar-free version. It's made with artificial sweeteners instead.
That said, plain water or sparkling water are much healthier choices if you're thirsty.
13. Premade Soup
Soup isn't a food that you generally associate with sugar.
When it's made with fresh whole ingredients, it's a healthy choice and can be a great way to increase your vegetable consumption without much effort.
The vegetables in soups have naturally occurring sugars, which are fine to eat given that they're usually present in small amounts and alongside lots of other beneficial nutrients.
However, many commercially prepared soups have a lot of added ingredients, including sugar.
To check for added sugars in your soup, look at the ingredient list for names such as:
- barley malt
- high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and other syrups
The higher up on the list an ingredient is, the higher its content in the product. Watch out for when manufacturers list small amounts of different sugars, as that's another sign the product could be high in total sugar.
14. Breakfast Cereal
Cereal is a popular, quick, and easy breakfast food.
However, the cereal you choose could greatly affect your sugar consumption, especially if you eat it every day.
Some breakfast cereals, particularly those marketed at children, have lots of added sugar. Some contain 12 grams, or 3 teaspoons of sugar in a small 34-gram (1.2-ounce) serving.
Check the label and try choosing a cereal that's high in fiber and doesn't contain added sugar.
Better yet, wake up a few minutes earlier and cook a quick healthy breakfast with a high protein food like eggs. Eating protein for breakfast can help you lose weight.
15. Cereal Bars
For on-the-go breakfasts, cereal bars can seem like a healthy and convenient choice.
However, like other "health bars," cereal bars are often just candy bars in disguise. Many contain very little fiber or protein and are loaded with added sugar.
16. Canned Fruit
All fruit contains natural sugars. However, some canned fruit is peeled and preserved in sugary syrup. This processing strips the fruit of its fiber and adds a lot of unnecessary sugar to what should be a healthy snack.
The canning process can also destroy heat-sensitive vitamin C, although most other nutrients are well preserved.
Whole, fresh fruit is best. If you want to eat canned fruit, look for one that's been preserved in juice rather than syrup. Juice has a slightly lower amount of sugar.
17. Canned Baked Beans
Baked beans are another savory food that's often surprisingly high in sugar.
A cup (254 grams) of regular baked beans contains about 5 teaspoons of sugar.
If you like baked beans, you can choose low sugar versions. They can contain about half the amount of sugar found in regular baked beans.
18. Premade Smoothies
Blending fruits with milk or yogurt in the morning to make yourself a smoothie can be a great way to start your day.
However, not all smoothies are healthy.
Many commercially produced smoothies come in large sizes and can be sweetened with ingredients like fruit juice, ice cream, or syrup. This increases their sugar content.
Some of them contain ridiculously high amounts of calories and sugar, with over 54 grams (13.5 teaspoons) of sugar in a single 16-ounce or 20-ounce serving.
For a healthy smoothie, check the ingredients and make sure you watch your portion size.
The Bottom Line
Added sugars aren't a necessary part of your diet. Although small amounts are fine, they can cause serious harm if eaten in large amounts on a regular basis.
The best way to avoid hidden sugars in your meals is to make them at home so you know exactly what's in them.
However, if you need to buy prepackaged food, make sure you check the label to identify any hidden added sugars, especially when buying foods from this list.
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