When we think about added sugar, the most obvious culprits come to mind: candy bars, soft drinks, pies, and cakes. The truth is foods that contain added sugar now make up the majority of what you find on store shelves. When a team of researchers from the University of North Carolina conducted a survey of grocery stores, they found that 60% of packaged foods and drinks contained added sugar.
Added sugar is different from the naturally occurring sugars in fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. They usually take the form of high fructose corn syrup, “evaporated cane juice,” or “rice syrup.” Food companies include these additives to boost the flavors of their products and attune their customers to a sweeter diet. Before you make a food purchase, it may be a good idea to inspect the ingredients lists on the backs of packages. You’d also benefit by purchasing more fresh produce and other unprocessed foods.
However, it can be difficult to make some meals without packaged products. Here are 6 foods that contain added sugar you may not have known about and may want to avoid:
1. Pasta Sauce
Pasta sauces, or for that matter all types of sauces, are some of the most commonly used packaged food items. They are also full of added sugars, which is part of what makes them such a tempting addition to our meals.
If you want to eat pasta, you can try substituting herbs and spices combined with a little olive oil or MCT oil instead of using pasta sauces. If you need your sauce, try using less than usual. Use natural brands that have reduced amounts or added sugar or no added sugar at all. These can sometimes be more expensive, but your body will thank you for it.
2. Fruit Juice
The majority of sugars in fruit juices are naturally occurring, but because fruit juices are so concentrated, you get a large dose of sugar with every drop. By some estimates, drinks like grape and apple juice have just as much, if not more, sugar than sodas and sports drinks. Other juice drinks, such as lemonade, are also foods that contain added sugar.
Part of the allure of fruit juice is that it is an easy way to get the inherent nutrients of fruits. You are usually better off eating fruit itself rather than drinking juice. But if you do, try limiting it to mealtimes and diluting it with some water before drinking.
3. Salad Dressings
Salads can be a great addition to a healthy meal. Including a variety of fresh vegetables in your salad can get you more of the nutrients you need with a great taste, but not every salad is created equal. Salad dressings are often used to enhance the flavor of salads or to mask the taste of unsavory vegetables, but salad dressings are loaded with fats, carbohydrates, and sugars. Some salad lovers choose “diet” or fat-free dressing as alternatives. These often contain even more sugar to make up for the loss of flavor from the absent fat.
Try using olive-oil based vinaigrettes or MCT oils instead of thicker dressings. If you do wish to use dressings that have sugar, pick those that have the shortest list of ingredients and the lowest levels per serving. Try not to overload your salads with dressings. Instead, use a small amount of dressing and shake your salad in a closed container to increase coverage. That’ll make a little dressing go a long way!
Processed cereal is one of the most notorious foods that contain added sugar. Some of the worst brands are marketed towards children, but you may be surprised by the number of “healthy” cereals that have added sugar, too. The average sugar content of cereals in the United States is about 10 grams per serving. Many of the cereal products on the market, including some cereals in health sections, contain 10 grams of sugar or more per serving.
Breaking with cereal can be difficult because it is such a convenient breakfast option. If you do eat cereal, look for “bare” brands that have less than 10 grams of sugar per serving or little sugar at all. The best choices are usually oatmeal, grits, and other hot cereals.
Greek yogurt has become wildly popular among health conscious eaters because it is supposed to have less natural sugar than regular yogurt. All yogurts contain some amount of lactose, the naturally occurring sugar found in milk. In Greek yogurts, the lactose is strained out, but many of these brands also include added sugars to make their yogurts more flavorful. Children’s yogurts usually contain the most added sugar.
If you want to eat yogurt but you don’t want the sugar, look for brands that have less than 10 grams per serving. These brands may not be as tasty as others and they may still have added sugars, but at least they won’t have as much as they could.
6. Protein Bars
Protein bars are often marketed as health-food products, but they usually serve a very specific purpose: building muscle mass. They are best used alongside an intense workout regimen when you want to bulk up your physique, not when you are attempting to lose weight. They almost always contain added sugars meant to improve flavor. They can also contain sugar alcohols.
If you need protein, most experts suggest you eat natural foods like poultry, fish, beans, peas, and eggs. If it’s the convenient “bar” aspect of protein bars that draw you to them, try throwing a healthy, low-sugar granola bar into your purse or briefcase instead.