Hidden Sugar in “Healthy Foods”

Hidden sugar is lurking in all kinds of unexpected places, making it hard to avoid.

You don’t need a degree in nutrition to know that cookies are full of sugar.  But what you might not realize is that the salad you had for lunch may have been packed with just as much sugar as your favorite sweet treat.  Sugar is lurking in all kinds of unexpected places, making it hard to avoid.  And considering that recent studies suggest that sugar is addictive and harmful to your health, it’s wise to find out exactly how much you’re consuming.

A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that Americans are consuming more than three times the roughly six-teaspoons-per-day limit recommended by the American Heart Association. That’s roughly 300-plus extra calories from sugar each day! 

Because sugar is naturally occurring in healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, you’re probably getting your daily allowance before you even bite into that cupcake. That’s not to say you should cut back on produce—it’s an essential part of a healthy diet—but you need to be aware of how much sugar you’re getting from processed foods, which experts believe to be as much as 50 percent of the sugar you consume.

It’s easier said than done.  Hidden sugar is in places you wouldn’t expect because it’s cheap to produce, tastes great, and is highly addictive.  But you’d be surprised to know that these “healthy” foods are some of the worst offenders:

  • Oatmeal – Naturally low in sugar, oatmeal makes a very healthy breakfast if you use plain uncooked oats topped with nuts and fruit.  But the pre-packaged, flavored variety is often packed with loads of added hidden sugar.  1 packet = up to 15 grams
  • Protein Bars – Protein is a great snack option because it keeps you feeling fuller longer than carbohydrates.  But protein bars can be problematic because they’re often filled with sugar to make them taste better. One bar = 15 grams
  • Milk – You probably already steer clear of whole milk because it contains saturated fat, but all milk contains sugar.  Paired with sugary cereal or oatmeal and you’re bound to suffer from a morning sugar crash.  If you’re adding milk and sugar to your morning coffee, your sweet tooth thanks you, but your waistline does not. 1 cup of skim milk = 12 grams of sugar
  • Iced Tea – In its natural state, tea contains no sugar.  However, some of the sweetened varieties that come in glass or plastic bottles have almost as many grams of sugar as a Coke. 1 20-ounce bottle = 56 grams
  • Salad Dressing – Just when you think you’re making a healthy choice with a salad for lunch, the dressing is likely loaded with sugar, especially the low-fat varieties. Opt for vinegar or lemon juice with olive oil instead.
    1 tablespoon of low fat French dressing = 6 grams
  • Dried Fruit – if you top that salad with dried fruit, or think you’re doing well to reach for a handful of trail mix for a snack, think again.  Fruit naturally contains a lot of sugar, but dried fruit can have as much as double the amount of sugar per serving.  Choose fresh fruit instead.
    1/4 cup = 18 grams

The bottom line is we need to be mindful of the foods we’re consuming.  What you think might be a “healthy” choice, could be full of sugar.  If you’re not sure, check the label.  Unfortunately, diabetes and obesity are on the rise thanks in part to hidden sugars.

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