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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By Melissa Gaskill
Two decades ago scientists and volunteers along the Virginia coast started tossing seagrass seeds into barren seaside lagoons. Disease and an intense hurricane had wiped out the plants in the 1930s, and no nearby meadows could serve as a naturally dispersing source of seeds to bring them back.
Restored seagrass beds in Virginia now provide habitat for hundreds of thousands of scallops. Bob Orth, Virginia Institute of Marine Science / CC BY 2.0<p>The paper is part of a growing trend of evidence suggesting seagrass meadows can be easier to restore than other coastal habitats.</p><p>Successful seagrass-restoration methods include <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304377099000078?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">transplanting shoots</a>, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1061-2971.2004.00314.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mechanized planting</a> and, more recently, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-17438-4" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">biodegradable mats</a>. Removing threats, proximity to donor seagrass beds, planting techniques, project size and site selection all play roles in a restoration effort's success.</p><p>Human assistance isn't always necessary, though. In areas where some beds remain, seagrass can even recover on its own when stressors are reduced or removed. For example, seagrass began to recover when Tampa Bay improved its water quality by reducing nitrogen loads from runoff by roughly 90%.</p><p>But more and more, seagrass meadows struggle to hang on.</p><p>The marine flowering plants have declined globally since the 1930s and currently disappear at a rate equivalent to a football field every 30 minutes, according to the <a href="https://www.unep.org/resources/report/out-blue-value-seagrasses-environment-and-people" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Environment Programme</a>. And research published in 2018 found the rate of decline is <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2018GB005941" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">accelerating</a> in many regions.</p><p>The causes of decline vary and overlap, depending on the region. They include thermal stress from climate change; human activities such as dredging, anchoring and coastal infrastructure; and intentional removal in tourist areas. In addition, increased runoff from land carries sediment that clouds the water, blocking sunlight the plants need for photosynthesis. Runoff can also carry contaminants and nutrients from fertilizer that disrupt habitats and cause algal blooms.</p><p>All that damage comes with a cost.</p>
The Value of Seagrass<p>As with ecosystems like rainforests and <a href="https://therevelator.org/mangroves-climate-change/" target="_blank">mangroves</a>, loss of seagrass increases carbon dioxide emissions. And that spells trouble not just for certain habitats but for the whole planet.</p><p>Although seagrass covers at most 0.2% of the seabed, it <a href="https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/seagrass-secret-weapon-fight-against-global-heating" target="_blank">accounts for 10%</a> of the ocean's capacity to store carbon and soils, and these meadows store carbon dioxide an estimated 30 times faster than most terrestrial forests. Slow decomposition rates in seagrass sediments contribute to their <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/238506081_Assessing_the_capacity_of_seagrass_meadows_for_carbon_burial_Current_limitations_and_future_strategies" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high carbon burial rates</a>. In Australia, according to <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.15204" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> by scientists at Edith Cowan University, loss of seagrass meadows since the 1950s has increased carbon dioxide emissions by an amount equivalent to 5 million cars a year. The United Nations Environment Programme reports that a 29% decline in seagrass in Chesapeake Bay between 1991 and 2006 resulted in an estimated loss of up to 1.8 million tons of carbon.</p>
Eelgrass in the river delta at Prince William Sound, Alaska. Alaska ShoreZone Program NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC; Courtesy of Mandy Lindeberg / NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC<p>Seagrasses also protect costal habitats. A healthy meadow slows wave energy, reduces erosion and lowers the risk of flooding. In Morro Bay, California, a 90% decline in the seagrass species known as eelgrass caused extensive erosion, according to a <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272771420303528?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> from researchers at California Polytechnic State University.</p><p>"Right away, we noticed big patterns in sediment loss or erosion," said lead author Ryan Walter. "Many studies have shown this on individual eelgrass beds, but very few studies looked at it on a systemwide scale."</p><p>In the tropics, seagrass's natural protection can reduce the need for expensive and often-environmentally unfriendly <a href="https://www.nioz.nl/en/news/zeegras-spaart-stranden-en-geld" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">beach nourishments</a> regularly conducted in tourism areas.</p><p>Seagrass ecosystems improve water quality and clarity, filtering particles out of the water column and preventing resuspension of sediment. This role could be even more important in the future. By producing oxygen through photosynthesis, meadows could help offset decreased oxygen levels caused by warmer water temperatures (oxygen is less soluble in warm than in cold water).</p><p>The meadows also provide vital habitat for a wide variety of marine life, including fish, sea turtles, birds, marine mammals such as manatees, invertebrates and algae. They provide nursery habitat for <a href="https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/32636/seagrass.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly 20%</a> of the world's largest fisheries — an <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/science/seagrass-meadows-harbor-wildlife-for-centuries/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">estimated 70%</a> of fish habitats in Florida alone.</p><p>Conversely, their disappearance can contribute to die-offs of marine life. The loss of more than 20 square miles of seagrass in Florida's Biscayne Bay may have helped set the stage for a widespread <a href="https://www.wlrn.org/2020-08-14/the-seagrass-died-that-may-have-triggered-a-widespread-fish-kill-in-biscayne-bay" target="_blank">fish kill</a> in summer 2020. Lack of grasses to produce oxygen left the basin more vulnerable when temperatures rose and oxygen levels dropped as a result, says Florida International University professor Piero Gardinali.</p>
Damaged Systems, a Changing Climate<p>Governments and conservationists around the world have already put a lot of effort into coastal restoration efforts. And that's helped some seagrass populations.</p><p>Where stressors remain, though, restoration grows more complicated. <a href="https://www.rug.nl/research/portal/en/publications/the-future-of-seagrass-ecosystem-services-in-a-changing-world(3a8c56db-7bed-4c9e-ac7f-c72453e2a102).html" target="_blank">Research</a> published this September found that only 37% of seagrass restorations have survived. Newly restored meadows remain vulnerable to the original stressors that depleted them, as well as to storms — and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/climate-crisis">climate change</a>.</p>
Seagrass in Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida. Alicia Wellman / Florida Fish and Wildlife / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0<p>In Chesapeake Bay a cold-water species of seagrass is currently hitting its heat limit, especially in summer, according to Alexander Challen Hyman of University of Florida's School of Natural Resources and Environment. As waters continue to warm due to climate change, the species likely will disappear there.</p><p>Climate-driven sea-level rise complicates the problem as well. Seagrasses thrive at specific depths — too shallow and they dry out or are eaten, too deep and there isn't enough light for photosynthesis.</p>
But There’s Good News, Too<p>Luckily, left to its own devices, a seagrass meadow can flourish for hundreds of years, according to a <a href="https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2019.1861" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> published last year by Hyman and other researchers from the University of Florida. The researchers arrived at their conclusion by looking at shells of living mollusks and fossil shells to estimate the ages of meadows in Florida's Big Bend region on the Gulf Coast.</p><p>That area has extensive, relatively pristine seagrass meadows. "Our motivation was to understand the past history of these systems, and shells store a lot of history," said co-author Michal Kowalewski.</p><p>A high degree of similarity between living and dead shells indicates a stable area, while a mismatch suggests an area shifted from seagrass to barren sand. The researchers found that long-term accumulations of shells resembled living ones, suggesting that the seagrass habitats have been stable over time.</p><p>That stability allows biodiversity to thrive, creating conditions where specialist species can survive and flourish, according to Hyman.</p><p>Discovering the long-term stability of seagrass meadows has implications for choosing restoration sites, Kowalewski notes.</p><p>"There must be reasons they thrive in one place, while a mile away they don't and fossil data says they probably never did," he said. "If we remove a seagrass patch, we cannot hope to plant it somewhere else. It's not just the seagrass that is special. The location at which it's found is special, too."</p><p>A better approach is conserving these habitats in the first place, but we're not doing enough of that right now. The UN reports that marine protected areas safeguard just 26% of recorded seagrass meadows, compared with 40% of coral reefs and 43% of mangroves.</p>
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