5 “Healthy” Foods with Hidden SugarPosted: August 26, 2014
There’s no way to sugarcoat it – sugar is bad & we’re eating too much of it.
On average, Americans consume 156 pounds – or 31 five-pound bags – of sugar per year. Yikes! When considering its linked to everything from diabetes to high blood pressure to heart disease, that’s some Sour Patch Kid news right there. In fact, many experts believe our collective sweet tooth may not just be making us fat, but bringing us to our death. Poison alert, poison alert!
Some of you might be thinking, “I’m no Cookie Monster. I don’t eat candy or drink soda, so I’m fine.” It’s a thought that some of us here at the LifeVest have held, too. Yet, according to the latest guidelines from the World Health Organization, no more than 100 daily calories (25 grams) should come from sugar, and with it often lurking in unexpected places, that’s a number that can add up quickly.
From bread to breakfast to salad dressing, here are five hidden sources of sugar that could be taking a toll on your health without you even knowing it, along with the best options to keep these “healthy” foods actually beneficial to your health.
Yogurt: Filling your bowl with yogurt could mean dumping nearly three times the sugar of a Krispy Kreme doughnut onto your breakfast table. Say what?! Fruit’s favorite creamy counterpart does act as a good source of calcium, protein and gut-loving probiotics. However, not all yogurt is created equal. In fact, when it comes to certain types, like Yoplait’s Original Strawberry Banana with 27 grams of sugar per serving, you’re might as well be calling breakfast “dessert”.
Even plain yogurt contains a significant amount of sugar – 12 grams per six ounces – since the lactose in milk and yogurt is, indeed, a sugar itself. However, it’s the added sugar in flavored brands for which you really need to look out. In reality, “healthy” fruit flavors tend to be heavier on the corn syrup than the fruit, and can rack up those sugar grams quickly.
The sweetest option for your health: When enjoying yogurt, stick to low-fat, plain varieties, and add your own fruit instead. Use sliced banana to help sweeten up fruits like blackberries that might make your bowl on the tarter side, and a dash or two of cinnamon, a spice that has naturally sweet kick to it. If you do desire a little more sweetness, lightly drizzle honey or maple syrup on top. Even with the added sugar, you’re still likely to craft a healthier bowl than one you’d buy at the store. Bonus: top it all off with a few chopped walnuts, a nut said to have the highest antioxidant levels of them all.
Salad dressing: There’s nothing like purposely including a healthy side with your meal, only to find out it’s actually not looking so good on the health front. In the case of salad, it’s extremely important to choose what you top your leaves with wisely. Many bottled dressings are loaded with sugar, using it as a tool to bolster flavor. In fact, “light” or “fat-free” versions are often the worst culprits, since companies look to ingredient sources outside of the fat to replace the flavor in its absence. For instance, Kraft’s Fat-Free Catalina has 7 grams, or almost 2 tsp. of sugar per serving, and Wish-Bone’s, Fat Free Western has 11 grams. While both are low on fat, this means you’ll pour about two sugar packets down onto your salad per serving, negating any benefits their “light” name might tout.
The sweetest option for your health: Make your own! This is the easiest way to ensure you know exactly what’s going onto your romaine, or arugula, or spinach, or whatever other veggie’s in your bowl. And often, it’s as easy as a quick 2-minute whisk of a few components with your fork. For starters, try this Balsamic Dijon Vinaigrette from Real Simple. It contains just three ingredients, aside from salt and pepper, and works well with a variety of salad toppings, and steamed veggies, too. If you’re feeling in a pinch and must go for a store-bought version, Everyday Health has compiled a list of their top choices.
Tomato Sauce: When comparing to heavy Alfredo and other cream sauces, vitamin-loaded tomato sauce is a rosy choice. However, many companies have a heavy hand when it comes to the sugar bowl for flavoring their sauce and packaging it for store shelves. While you might view spaghetti sauce as this tangy topping for your noodles, you’d be surprised at the 10 grams a 1/2 cup of Prego brings, or the 11 grams Francesco Rinaldi’s Traditional Sauce will put on your plate. That sugar adds unnecessary, empty calories that would be better spent on extra pasta or veggies on the side.
The sweetest option for your health: Save the sweet sauce for the ketchup bottle (which yes, is a sugary condiment in which you need to be mindful of moderation). Rather, find sauces that draw upon the naturally flavors of tomatoes and are instead seasoned with fresh herbs, a far superior flavor enhancer both in terms of taste and health. When reaching for a store-bought sauce, be sure to read the ingredient list, and make sure neither sugar or corn syrup is on there. Recommended brands that fit the bill include: Amy’s Family Marinara Pasta Sauce, Classico Tomato & Basil, Whole Foods 365 Classic Pasta Sauce, and Victoria’s All Natural Marinara.
Bread: Traditionally, homemade bread doesn’t include sugar, but it’s added in many store-bought loaves as an easy way to retain moisture and add softness. Although usually included in small amounts, it’s certainly not needed for a hearty slice of bread. Why not put that sugar in your diet towards a place in which you’ll actually taste it? For instance, we’d rather our sugar hit the top of our tongue by coming in the form of sliced bananas and a drizzle of honey, intentionally spread on our whole grain slice vs. hidden in the wheat itself.
The sweetest option for your health: When scanning the ingredient label, keep in mind sugar is often disguised in bread as corn sweetener, high fructose corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, brown rice syrup, words ending in -ose (dextrose, maltose, sucrose, fructose, glucose…), honey and molasses. The farther down sugar is listed on the ingredient list, the less the bread will contain since ingredients are listed in order of weight. For instance, in Sarah Lee’s 100% Whole Wheat you’ll see fructose corn syrup as the 3rd ingredient – not good! Today, it can be hard to find a loaf without any of those sugary versions above, so if you’re unable to do so, look for one where the sugar is at least placed towards the end. Also look for a loaf who’s ingredient list isn’t running the length of a novel. A shorter length means less unnecessary additives and processed ingredients, a fresher, healthier loaf for you.
Dried Fruit: It sounds like a smart snack, but in many cases, dried fruit might as well be candy. Fruit already contains significant amounts of natural sugar, so when given the sugar-coating that many brands add, dried fruit can pack as much as 30+ grams of sugar into 1/4 cup (i.e., dried cranberries). Dried fruit also contains far more sugar by volume than fresh fruits given the water removal process to make it the chewy snack that it is. A small, 1/2 oz. box of raisins has more than 25 grams of sugar, where as a full cup of grapes has only 15 grams.
The sweetest option for your health: Your best bet is to stick with fresh fruit when craving a sweet snack. However, if you really want to add a little dried fruit to your homemade trail mix, oatmeal, etc., choose brands where only the fruit is listed. Also beware, for example, that a dried apricot is 1/4 the size of a fresh one, but packs in the same amount of calories and sugar. Although still a better option than other process snacks, moderation becomes extra important here!