7 Foods With More Sugar Than You Think

This content originally appeared on Everyday Health. Republished with permission.

By K. Aleisha Fetters

Medically Reviewed by Kara Andrew, RDN, LDN courtesy of American College of Lifestyle Medicine

Headline after headline tells us that too much sugar is doing our health no favors. And when it comes to excess sugar intake, it’s usually added sugar that’s the real issue.

After all, natural sugars — the ones found in whole, unprocessed foods, including the fructose in fruit or lactose in dairy — supply the body with needed energy in appropriate amounts, and they are often packaged alongside nutrients such as fiber or protein.

“Added sugars, though, are digested rapidly and cause a quick rise in blood sugar, which creates a cascade of metabolically damaging reactions,” explains Julie Upton, RD, who is based in Marin County, California. “High intakes of added sugars can lead to fatty liver disease, insulin resistancetype 2 diabetes, and systemic inflammation. They are often linked to overweight and obesity.”

RELATED: 6 Tips for Reducing Added Sugar in Your Diet

While U.S. dietary guidelines recommend limiting added sugars to no more than 10 percent of daily calories, research shows that 3 out of 4 people eat more than that.

If you don’t add sugar to food, you may think you’re in the clear, but several foods that fall outside of the dessert category can be surprisingly high in added sugar. Processed foods, many of which are not even sweet, account for 90 percent of all the added sugars people eat, according to a study.

Here are seven common foods that are secret sugar bombs.

1 — Flavored Yogurt

Shouldn’t yogurt be on the good list? Well, it is — but it depends what kind you buy. For example, fruit-on-the-bottom varieties often have more added sugar than fruit. “Read the ingredients. If sugar is in the top three ingredients, leave the item on the shelf,” says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDCES, author of 2-Day Diabetes Diet who is based in Sparta, New Jersey. And be aware that sugar can go by more than 60 names, including cane juice and corn syrup, on ingredient lists.

Or opt for plain yogurt to begin with and add your own mix-ins. “Cinnamon, fresh fruit, pureed berries, unsweetened applesauce, toasted and unsalted nuts, and seeds are all great additions to provide flavor without added sugars,” says Lori Zanini, RD, CDCES, who’s based in Manhattan Beach, California.

RELATED: What to Eat and Avoid on a Mediterranean Diet

2 — Canned Soup

You’ve heard about canned soup being high in sodium. But did you know it can also be chock-full of the sweet stuff? You’ll usually find the highest levels in tomato-based soups — some condensed ones have up to 20 grams (g) of sugar per 1-cup serving, with tomato soup being just one example, notes the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). “Sugar reduces the acidity of the tomatoes to balance the taste,” Zanini says.

So check soup labels carefully before you buy, especially when it comes to tomatoey varieties.

3 — Salad Dressing

Dressing is one of the biggest ways a seemingly healthy salad can go from a good choice to a diet buster instantly. But it’s not just because of the fat that dressing tends to pack.

Some dressings contain up to 6 g of sugar per serving. And it turns out that light and fat-free versions tend to be the highest in added sugars. “When manufacturers remove fat from products, they often add more sugar to replace the flavor,” Zanini says.

Your best bet? Try using hummus, tzatziki, citrus juices, vinegar, and even pureed berries as simple, healthy ways to dress your salads, she recommends.

RELATED: 14 Healthy Greens to Consider for Your Salad

4 — Tomato Sauce

Store-bought tomato sauces in jars are convenient but can be sneaky sources of sugar, which is often added to cut the acidic taste of tomatoes and keep jarred sauces fresh longer.

Again, naturally occurring sugars aren’t the issue — corn syrup and other added sugars are. And some jarred sauces come with up to 4 g in a ½ cup, per the USDA. If you have trouble finding sauces that are low in or free of added sugars, try a can of plain diced tomatoes instead. “Simply drain the juices, puree, and add your own spices to make a quick sugar-free sauce,” Zanini says. You might end up creating a sauce that you like more than anything you can find on shelves.

5 — Fruit Juice

Fruit juices are definitely not all created equal. Some varieties of OJ, for example, contain nothing but pure juice from oranges. Other drinks labeled as juices are packed with added sugars and other ingredients.

Check product labels and look for juices that list just juice from the fruit on the ingredient list or note “100 percent juice” or “no sugar added” somewhere on the label. (And even then, check the label to ensure artificial sweeteners aren’t being added.) Or, better still, opt for the whole fruit instead. (Bonus: Research has shown that choosing whole fruits like apples and grapes over their juice counterparts can help lower the risk for type 2 diabetes.)

RELATED: Slight Increase in Produce, Whole Grains May Cut Type 2 Diabetes Risk

6 — Granola and Snack Bars

Have you been eating a glorified candy bar for breakfast? Granola and snack bars often sound a heck of a lot healthier than they actually are. Some brands contain 10 g or more of sugar per bar, and you may find white flour in the ingredient list, too.

Avoid bars that list sugar in their top three ingredients; there are ones out there that are incredibly low if not altogether free of added sugars. You can also consider snacking on a handful of whole nuts and whole or unsweetened dried fruit instead. (More on dried fruit next.)

7 — Dried Fruit

Dried fruit tends to sound a lot healthier than it is. A single handful (40 g) of dried cranberries, for instance, can contain up to 29 g of added sugar, on top of the fruit’s naturally occurring sugars, notes the USDA. Sugar levels tend to be highest in dried fruits that are naturally tart, Upton says.

Look for options that list only the fruit as the ingredient and no added sugars. These will typically say “no added sugar” on the front.

RELATED: 10 Boring Fruits With Amazing Health Benefits

Additional reporting by Debbie Strong.

Everyday Health follows strict sourcing guidelines to ensure the accuracy of its content, outlined in our editorial policy. We use only trustworthy sources, including peer-reviewed studies, board-certified medical experts, patients with lived experience, and information from top institutions.

Resources

Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020–2025 [PDF]. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. December 2020.
Steele EM, Baraldi LG, Louzada ML, et al. Ultra-Processed Foods and Added Sugars in the US Diet: Evidence From a Nationally Representative Cross-Sectional Study. BMJ Open. March 9, 2016.
Hidden in Plain Sight. SugarScience.
Campbell’s, Tomato Soup, Condensed. U.S. Department of Agriculture. April 1, 2019.
Tomato Products, Canned, Sauce. U.S. Department of Agriculture. April 1, 2019.
Muraki I, Imamura F, Manson JE, et al. Fruit Consumption and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: Results From Three Prospective Longitudinal Cohort Studies. BMJ. August 29, 2013.
Cranberries, Dried, Sweetened. U.S. Department of Agriculture. April 1, 2019.

 

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