How Much Sugar is Hiding in your Food?
Everyone generally understands that excess consumption of added sugar is a bad thing. Yet still, the average American will consume more than 150 pounds of sugar each year. (That amounts roughly to 3 pounds a week).
This number might be surprising to you, because, when laid out in that form – strict poundage – it seems ridiculous that one person could consume 3 whole pounds of sugar in 7 short days.
But what makes this extreme overconsumption of sugar possible is that sugar is a stealthy additive – you can find added sugar in just about everything. Even the most conscious consumer still gets caught, however occasionally, in the trap of hidden sugars.
Where Does it Hide?
Sugar hides in many places, most often in any variety of processed foods. Sometimes, the high sugar content in a product may be pretty obvious, other times, it might come as a surprise. Here are 5 surprising items that contain high amounts of added sugars:
You might think this one is utterly preposterous. Pasta sauce is not sweet. However, if you buy jarred pasta sauce, chances are high that one serving contains anywhere from 6-12 grams of sugar.
Does this mean you should cut pasta sauce out of your diet? No! There is always the option of moderation, but if you’re feeling culinarily courageous, you could always make your own pasta sauce.
Recipes are not complicated – onions, garlic, crushed tomatoes, seasoning, and salt and sugar to taste. If you’re making it, you know exactly how much sugar is or is not in it.
If you buy any form of flavored yogurt, from any brand, the sugar content will be high. This is easily avoidable, however.
If you purchase plain yogurt (not vanilla, plain) you can always sweeten it yourself. My go-to yogurt snack is either yogurt with a bit of honey and peanut butter, or yogurt with honey and berries (and some chocolate chips).
These methods cut out the excess sugar, without affecting taste. You could also make your own yogurt, but who has time for that?
Even your healthy salad is not exempt from the plague that is added sugar. Any pre-bottled salad dressings will come loaded with the added sugars.
This, like with the yogurt, is easily avoidable. You could always substitute a traditional dressing simply with olive oil (which is super healthy) and vinegar (balsamic, flavored balsamic, red wine, etc).
You could also always whip up your own salad dressing – most recipes are not complicated, involving oil, some form of vinegar, a dash of lemon or orange juice, maybe some yogurt, of course depending on the flavor and texture you’re looking for.
Energy drinks, sports drinks, soda, pre-bottled tea, and breakfast cereal (even the ones that claim to be healthy) are all loaded with added sugars.
In most of these cases, you can easily avoid the source, or simply create a homemade sugar-free option (in this, honey or maple syrup is your strongest weapon).
Dangers of Sugar
Like I said earlier, just about everyone knows sugar isn’t good. But how bad is it, exactly?
In addition to causing tooth decay, too much sugar can also accelerate aging and damage your immune system. Sugar also increases stress levels and can alter the cognitive capabilities of children.
And on top of all that, emerging research has proven that too much sugar has a similar effect on your liver as alcoholism. Too much sugar can lead to a fatty buildup in the liver that can lead to liver disease.
So, to answer my earlier question, sugar is very, very bad.
How to Find it?
The nutrition labels are the best place to start. Anything that contains more than 15 grams of sugar per 100 grams is considered to be high in sugar, anything that contains under 5 grams of sugar per 100 grams is considered to be low.
But also check the ingredients list. Even if a product says it is low in sugar, it might contain artificial sweeteners that are better not to use.
If you come across an ingredient that you are struggling to pronounce, you might want to find a different product with legible (that means natural, too) ingredients.
Anything you’re not sure of, a quick google search can easily remedy. Sucrose, fructose, and glucose are all forms of sugar. Just keep your eyes peeled.
Sugar is dangerous, and part of that danger comes from the fact that it is well-hidden in places we might not expect it to be.
But, with a little culinary ingenuity, a few extra minutes in the kitchen, and an extra glance at the nutrition label, you can learn where it hides, and how to avoid it.
I’m a personal trainer based in Denver (Matrix Gym) and a true fitness nerd. If I’m not training clients or working out at my home gym, I’m probably skiing, cycling or hiking with my dog Rufus.