Written by Team Nutrisense. Reviewed by Heather Davis MS, RDN, LDN
You may think that limiting sugary foods like ice cream, desserts, and soda is all you need to do to reduce your added sugar intake. But high amounts of sugar can be found in some surprising products.
In fact, a recent report found that an estimated 74 percent of packaged foods contain added sugar. These foods can even include those that are labeled as “healthy” or “natural,” which doesn’t always translate to a low-sugar option.
The Many Faces of Sugar
Sugar has many different names, so it can be hard to detect added sugars in ingredient labels. If you aren’t sure that a food is high in added sugar, a good rule of thumb is to check the nutrition facts listed on the package for any of the names sugar may fall under.
Here are some hints to help you catch hidden sugars on the ingredients list:
- The ingredient on the label ends in “-ose.”
- The ingredient list contains the words “sugar,” “syrup,” “juice,” or “concentrate.”
- The food includes a “honey” or a “nectar.”
Just a few of the names added sugar can masquerade under include:
- Agave nectar
- Corn sweetener
- Corn syrup or corn syrup solids
- Brown sugar
- Fruit juice concentrate
- Glucose or glucose solids
- High-fructose corn syrup
Top 10 Foods with Hidden Sugar
You might expect to find added sugar in products such as baked goods, desserts, and sodas. But in addition to the usual suspects, there are some foods that can contain a surprising amount of added sugar.
Here are a few common foods with hidden sugars.
Yogurt contains probiotics, which may have numerous benefits for your gut. Some types of yogurt, such as plain Greek yogurt, for example, are also great sources of protein and can even have a positive impact on bone health for some people.
Flavored yogurts, however, tend to be packed with sugar. A typical store bought strawberry yogurt can have as much as 32 grams of sugar in a six ounce container, which is more than a Snickers candy bar!
To cut the sugar, stick with plain Greek yogurt, which only contains 5.5 grams of sugar per six ounces. If you crave some sweetness, add a small handful of fresh or frozen fruit, which will contain less sugar than flavored yogurt and add a boost of fiber and other nutrients.
2. Instant Oatmeal
Oatmeal is a type of whole grain that is high in fiber and even contains some antioxidants. However, many varieties of instant oatmeal contain added sugar, especially if they are flavored. Supermarket bought Instant Oatmeal can have anywhere from 12-15 grams of added sugars per packet.
Instead, opt for plain oatmeal or steel cut oats, which usually have no added sugar. You may also look for steel cut or rolled oats, which have a lower GI than instant oats and tend to be less processed.
3. Nut or Seed Butter
Nut and seed butters like peanut, almond, cashew, or sun butter are a great way to reap the potential health benefits of nuts and seeds. The American Heart Association recommends eating four servings a week to benefit heart health.
Nut and seed butters come in many varieties, and some have no added sugar. However, some of the common grocery store brands do contain added sugars.
To reduce some of your sugar consumption, take a close look at the label and choose a brand with no added sugars.
4. Dressings, Sauces, and Marinades
Sugar often sneaks into dressings, sauces, marinades, and other condiments. Ketchup, honey mustard, salad dressings, BBQ sauce, and others may all be secret sources of added sugars depending on the brand.
The serving size is often very small when it comes to condiments and sauces, sometimes just one to two tablespoons. If you eat more, it’s easier for the added sugar to add up, so pay attention to your nutrition labels.
If you want to reduce your added sugar intake, try paying close attention to ingredient labels and choose low-sugar options. Or, you can even make your own!
5. Dried and Canned Fruits
Because dehydration can concentrate sugar content, dried fruits are often naturally higher in sugar as compared to canned fruits. However, many canned fruit products also contain added sugar. This is because canned fruits will also often have sugar added as a preservative. Canned peaches, for example, can have up to 26 grams of sugar in just one cup, even though a large whole peach has only 15 grams.
To cut the sugar, make sure to read your nutrition labels carefully. Choose dried fruits with no sugar added, and instead of canned fruits, go for fresh or frozen varieties.
6. Pasta Sauce
Even though pasta tends to be a savory food, many prepared pasta sauces contain a surprising amount of sugar. A supermarket brand of traditional Italian tomato sauce, for example, contains four grams of added sugar in per half cup.
Like always, make sure to read the ingredient labels closely.
7. Non-Dairy Milk
Many of the non-dairy milk alternatives that have become popular in recent years contain added sugar. Almond milk, for example, can contain 7.2 grams of sugar per cup and vanilla almond milk can contain 15 grams. Some brands of oat milk found in the supermarket contain seven grams of added sugar per cup.
Instead, you may want to opt for unsweetened versions of non-dairy milk with fewer ingredients. Unsweetened almond milk contains only 0.2 grams of sugar per cup.
8. Crackers and Bread
Surprisingly, many cracker brands list sugar as an ingredient. Wheat Thins, for example, contain three different kinds of sugar: sugar, refiner’s syrup (a refined sugar invert made from cane or beet sugar), and malt syrup made from barley and corn. Some crackers contain both sugar and high fructose corn syrup. A loaf of bread can also contain sugar. For example, one slice of refined white bread contains 2.1 grams of added sugar.
If you’re watching your sugar intake, try to choose brands with less or no added sugar. Plain brown rice cakes make a nice substitute for a higher sugar cracker option. You can also experiment with replacing bread or crackers with more creative options, like lettuce, portobello mushrooms, or bell peppers.
9. Protein Bars
Even though their labels tend to emphasize protein, some manufacturers still seem to pack sugar into protein bars. To cut the sugar, focus on some low sugar protein-rich options.
You can also try to get protein right from the source. Things like uncured beef jerky (with minimal or no added sugar) can also be a great option for extra protein.
10. Alcoholic Drinks or Mixers
Finally, cocktails and cocktail mixers can be loaded with added sugars. Some margarita cocktail mixers can have as much as 28 grams of sugar per ounce!
One daiquiri can have 23 grams of sugar, while a Jack and Coke contains somewhere around 15 grams.
To cut down on some sugar, avoid or limit sweet wines or drinks mixed with sugary juices or sodas. These numbers will also vary depending on what ingredients are in the drink. Go for a low-carb beer or a glass of red wine, which has 0.9 grams, instead.