How to Avoid Sneaky Added Sugars

Put down the granola bar and back away from the yogurt.

Photo via iStockphoto.

Do you have any idea how much sugar you’re actually eating every day? You could guess, sure, but odds are, you’d be way off thanks to hidden added sugars you might not know about.

Some of that sugar is coming from expected places, like desserts, soda, and candy — but some of it’s coming out of places you might not expect, like your fruit juice cocktail or that sports drink that could have as much added sugar as a soda. And what about that granola bar you reach for every afternoon? You might not have considered that it could have more added sugar than a slice of cake.

Typically, people’s confusion lies in how to spot these added sugars, because they’re not listed on the food label — only total grams of sugar are listed. Adding to the chaos, you have some foods that naturally contain sugar like dairy products and fruits. So for example, a six-ounce container of plain yogurt contains 11 grams of sugar, but a six-ounce container of fruit-flavored yogurt can have between 19 and 26 grams of sugar. The difference? The plain yogurt has natural sugar and the fruit flavored yogurt has natural and added sugar, sometimes in the form of high fructose corn syrup.

These added sugars can come in many different forms. Here are just a few words you can look for in the ingredients list:

  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Molasses
  • Corn syrup
  • Malt syrup
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Liquid fructose
  • Crystal dextrose

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 100 calories from added sugars per day for women (that’s about 24 grams of sugar or 6 teaspoons) and no more than 150 calories from added sugars per day for men (about 36 grams of sugar or 9 teaspoons). Most people get well over that. Once you start looking though, it’s easier to cut down. Inspect food labels for grams of sugar and then look to the ingredients list for added sugar. Avoid products with added sugars in the first five ingredients or those where a different type of added sugar is listed multiple times. Consider if the product naturally contains dairy or fruit, and if it doesn’t, then the sugars in the product are added sugars.

Quick Tips:

  • Instead of fruit-flavored yogurt, opt for plain and add your own fruit. Frozen fruit makes for a great addition and is perfect for an afternoon snack when it has thawed.
  • If you’re looking for a granola bar, choose those with natural sugar from fruit or with a limited amount of added sugars in the ingredients list. You might be surprised by the amount of bars that list some type of added sugar as the first ingredient.
  • Limit sugars in breakfast cereals by inspecting the ingredients list and choosing those with five grams of sugar or less per serving. You can even add your own sugar at the table. One teaspoon contains four grams of sugar — much less than what you would eat from a typical breakfast cereal!
  • Choose seltzer water or soda water instead of sugar-sweetened sodas — or you can try water with lemon, lime, or other fruit flavoring.