Hidden Sugars: 7 Foods to Avoid
Most people don’t know that by the time they’ve eaten breakfast and had their morning coffee or espresso drink, they’ve met their sugar quota for the day. It’s not the whole food ingredients or coffee—it’s the additives: added sugars in breakfast food and coffee sweeteners like syrups and flavored creams. Then, pile on sugary soft drinks or sweets throughout the day, and it’s easy to exceed what nutrition experts recommend as part of a healthy diet.
According to the USDA, Americans eat an average of 32 teaspoons of added sugars a day. Take a moment to think about eating a teaspoon of sugar one, two, three, four…32 times. That might seem a ridiculous idea, but many people eat an equivalent amount just through sweetened foods and drinks.
Yet the World Health Organization suggests that people eat a fraction of that amount—25 grams, or about 6 teaspoons daily, which is found in less than one soft drink. Those recommendations cover all added sugars, including those naturally found in honey, syrups, fruit juice and fruit concentrates.
High sugar intake increases the risk of a variety of health concerns, including heart disease. To support heart health, let’s look at some of the top sugar-filled foods to avoid. (You might also be interested in my article, “7 of the Worst Foods for Heart Health.”)
Breakfast cereals: Even if you try to avoid sugary cereals, chances are your morning bowl is made up of a good amount of added sugar. Most breakfast cereals, including those marketed as “healthy,” can contain as much as 20 grams of sugar per serving.
Alternative: Homemade steel-cut oatmeal with fruit
Cereal bars: A cereal bar might seem like a healthy breakfast, but most are loaded with sugar. Many contain anywhere from 12 to 19 grams of sugar per bar.
Alternative: Whole wheat toast with avocado
Canned or packaged fruit: Fruit is healthy, but usually not when it’s canned or packaged. Most fruit is contained in syrup that adds up to 26 grams of sugar per serving.
Alternative: Whole fruits like apple, orange or pear
Condiments: A healthy salad or sandwich can easily become unhealthy with sugary condiments. Salad dressings, ketchup, pickle relish, mayonnaise and barbeque sauce are all condiments to avoid due to high sugar content.
Alternatives: Balsamic vinegar with Italian spices for salad; mustard, pesto, salsa, hot sauce or vinegar for sandwiches
Coffee creamer: Before you pour sweetener into your coffee, think of the health consequences. Just one tablespoon of a typical sweetened coffee creamer contains around 5 grams of sugar, which is 20 percent of the recommended daily intake.
Alternative: Milk (cow or unsweetened almond, flax or hemp)
Soft drinks: Flavored soft drinks may be the worst culprit of all because of the extremely high sugar content. Just one can might have as many as 33 grams of sugar, or almost 7 teaspoons.
Alternative: Carbonated water with a squeeze of lemon, lime or orange juice
Fruit drinks: Because this drink contains the word “fruit,” it can be easy to consider it healthy. Yet some fruit drinks contain less than 3 percent juice and can have as many as 22 grams of sugar in just 16 ounces (2 cups).
Alternative: 100 percent fruit juice with no added sugar, in moderation
Most of all, check labels for sugar, saturated fat and sodium content. Opt for whole foods as much as possible, and limit your intake of processed options. Small, daily choices lead to big, lifelong health benefits.
How do you limit your sugar intake? What are your favorite foods that are naturally low in sugar?