Added sugar lurks in your soy milk, frozen pizza and more!
When it comes to sugar, cupcakes and cookies are obvious diet derailers. The real saboteurs of healthy eating however are sneaky sources of the sweet stuff, which in a day of meals and snacks can add up to serious trouble — especially if you're among the 25.8 million Americans who suffer from diabetes. To address the epidemic, uncover 10 foods with added sugar that may surprise you.
1. Fast-food chicken sandwich
I've seen a lot of sneaky sources of sugar, but I was shocked to discover that many of the fried chicken sandwiches offered at popular fast food joints can contain up to 16 grams of the sweet stuff — that's four teaspoons of sugar per sandwich!
Think you're doing yourself a favor by buying a loaf of honey wheat? Think again. Bread manufacturers add sugar to retain moisture, add softness and lend a mild sweetness to their breads. If you're having trouble finding a loaf without added sugar, keep in mind that ingredients are listed by weight. The farther down sugar appears on the ingredients list, the less a slice will contain.
A few varieties of the store-bought coleslaw that I found in my grocery store contain up to 3.5 teaspoons of sugar per 1 cup serving. The easiest way to avoid sugar in your slaw is to make the popular cabbage dish at home and leave the white stuff out — some recipes for call for sugar, others don't. Still, if you're short on time, and the only option on the shelf contains sugar, mix in some additional shredded cabbage and low-fat Greek yogurt to cut the sugar and fat without losing the creaminess.
They may not taste overly sweet, but many jarred tomato and sauces are loaded with sugar. Look at the ingredient lists on some of those jars and you might even notice corn syrup in your sauce. The worst offenders I've found have 15 grams (nearly four teaspoons!) of sugar per half-cup serving. When buying pasta sauce, look for varieties with no added sugar or ones that contain less than seven grams per serving. Fresh is always best, so if you have ripe tomatoes on hand, roast them in the oven to bring out their natural sweetness. Then blend them with a little water and sautéed garlic to make a delicious homemade sauce.
5. Instant oatmeal
Aside from the oats, sugar is the second most common ingredient in many of those flavored packets of instant oats. Some contain up to 18 grams of the sweetener — more than four teaspoons. It's better to buy plain oatmeal and add fresh fruit or a dollop of honey or maple syrup for a hint of sweetness.
6. Vinaigrette dressing
We typically think of vinaigrette as a lighter, healthier alternative to high-fat creamy dressings — but salad eaters beware! The average raspberry or strawberry vinaigrette rarely contains any real fruit and almost always contains added sugar. Scan the ingredient list and you might even notice the one in your fridge is made entirely of vinegar, sugar and oil. In fact, nearly half of that 2-tablespoon suggested serving could be added sugar. "Light" and "reduced-fat" dressings also typically contain sugar, which is added to in place of the removed fat to enhance flavor. When you're dining out, ask for oil and vinegar instead of a pre-mixed salad topper. At home, make your own by blending fresh or frozen berries with olive oil, lemon juice and a drizzle of honey.
7. Greek yogurt
Though higher in protein than traditional yogurts, one small container of the flavored stuff can contain upwards of 3 teaspoons of added sugar — that's after accounting for the natural sugar, also known as lactose, found in all dairy products. To cut down on added sugars, avoid Greek yogurt with, what I like to call "fruit goop." Buy plain Greek yogurt and serve it with fresh fruit and a drizzle of honey instead.
Take a peek at the label of your average frozen pizza and you'll most likely see sugar, corn syrup, or corn syrup solids appear at least twice in the ingredients list. The sweet stuff can be hidden in the crust, added to the sauce, and, in some cases, slipped into the processed meat toppings. Some brands have 6 grams (or 1.5 teaspoons) of sugar per serving — a very small serving, at that. If you have the time, homemade pizza will almost always contain less sugar than the frozen kind. When you're in a hurry, there are brands of frozen pizza out there that don't add sugar — or trans fats! — to their crust. If the front of the box doesn't specify "No Added Sugar," choose the pie with the fewest mentions of sugar or corn syrup in the list of ingredients.
9. Vitamin-enhanced water
You might think you're sipping something healthy, but those vitamins are swirling in sugar. One 20-ounce bottle of vitamin-enhanced water has about 32 grams (or four teaspoons) of added sugar — about as much as you'll find in popular sports drinks, and nearly the same amount as a 12-ounce can of cola. I've even noticed those vitamin C-boosting packets that can be added to plain water or smoothies contain about a teaspoon of sugar per packet — yikes.
10. Non-dairy milks
Alternatives to moo-juice, including soy, rice and almond milk, are popular among health enthusiasts these days — but beware, the flavored varieties are generally sweetened with sugar. Compared to the lactose in dairy products, which has a relatively low glycemic index, most flavored, non-dairy milks are chock-full of either cane juice or evaporated cane juice (aka added sugar), and can cause major spikes in blood sugar. Opt for plain, unflavored varieties instead.
About the author
Elle Penner, M.P.H., R.D., is the registered dietitian and the food and nutrition editor at MyFitnessPal (www.myfitnesspal.com), the leading nutrition- and fitness-tracking app with the world's largest nutrition database. An expert in nutrition and communications, Penner has contributed to national magazines and online news publications, including Health,SELF, Readers Digest, and ABC News. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications from Boston College, and a Masters degree in Public Health Nutrition from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.