5 Foods You Love That Have More Sugar Than You Think


Most of us know it’s best to avoid added sugars because it only provides empty calories and doesn’t supply important nutrients. Sugar also promotes cavities, but there are even more important reasons to avoid sugar, like how it’s linked to an increased risk of heart disease, insulin resistance and increased inflammation. And if that isn’t enough, eating too much sugar and can make your blood sugars go up and then crash, making you feel tired and sluggish throughout the day.


Yet, there is often a lot of confusion about sugar and carbohydrates, even among diabetic patients who need to count their carbs. Often, I will hear diabetic patients say they don’t have to watch their carbohydrates, just their sugar, or visa versa. This is a misconception.


When you look at a food label and read the amount of carbohydrates that’s in it, the total amount of carbohydrates includes the sugars, both the naturally occurring sugars and the added sugars, so don’t add the two together. It’s all carbohydrates that diabetics need to count.


Figuring out how much added sugar is in a product is not that easy. As an example, look at a nutrition facts label for milk. For 1% white milk, there are approximately 13 grams of naturally occurring sugar and zero added sugars. The naturally occurring sugar is in the form of lactose. On the other hand, if you look at 1% chocolate flavored milk, you can see that there are approximately 24 grams of sugar, so there are about 11 grams of added sugar, that’s about 3 teaspoons of sugar as one teaspoon weighs about 4 grams. Different brands of flavored milk may contain more or less sugar.


Ingredient labels on food list the ingredients in the order of the highest volume to the least volume. So if sugar is listed first or early on the ingredients label, that food contains more sugar than if sugar is listed much lower in the ingredients list. However, food manufacturers are pretty sneaky and sugar can be listed in the ingredients under various names such as maltose, dextrose, sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup and even rice syrup. According to SugarScience, there are 61 different names for sugars listed on food labels. Therefore, I suggest looking for food products that have simple ingredient labels so it’s easier to tell what you are eating.


Several “healthy” foods contain lots of added sugar and it can take becoming a food detective to avoid hidden sources of sugar. Here are 5 foods that contain more sugar than you think:



In case you haven’t noticed, yogurt has become similar to candy. Natural, plain, unflavored yogurt is tart because the fermenting organisms have used the milk sugar (lactose), and fermented it. Many people don’t like plain yogurt, so manufacturers have added sugar to make it more palatable. Read the food labels and choose a yogurt with the least amount of carbs listed.


BBQ Sauce

You might not think about sugar when consuming your favorite smoked meats. However, BBQ sauce often contains a lot of sugar. Ketchup is another source of hidden sugar, along with teriyaki and many other sauces. Although you can read labels and choose those with the least amount of sugar, most people have their favorite sauces so it might just be better to use your favorites a bit more sparingly.


Protein Bars

You would be surprised how much sugar is in many popular protein bars. This is where manufacturers can get pretty sneaky and list sugar under many different names. Read the labels and choose those with the sugars listed the lowest on the ingredients label. Watch for sugar substitutes also, such as Splenda or aspartame, if you’re avoiding these.


Granola Bars

Many of us choose granola and granola bars as a healthy snack on the run or as a breakfast replacement. However, just like protein bars, they are often full of sugar and even candy. It’s often healthier to make your own granola mixes using nuts and dried fruit. Even though fruit has naturally occurring sugars, it’s better to choose dried fruit with important nutrients than processed sugar and candies. Many granola bars are no better than a candy bar.


Breakfast Cereals

Even cereals considered “healthier” are often full of added sugar – including those little oatmeal packets. Read the ingredients labels and choose your cereal wisely. You could also choose plain oatmeal and add your favorite toppings so you have control of how much sugar you are adding.


Other ways to avoid added sugar in your diet is to drain the sugar syrup off of canned fruit, avoid adding sugar at the table and avoid drinking some of the biggest sources of added sugar in a typical American diet: energy drinks and soda.

Jennifer M. Wood, MS, RD

Jennifer M Wood, MS, RDN is registered dietitian nutritionist and successful food and nutrition consultant in Southeastern Minnesota. As the founder of a nation-wide gourmet food company, Wood wrote Jenny’s Country Kitchen…recipes for making homemade a little easier! (2003), which is a timeless collection of make-ahead, freeze-ahead and pantry-stocking recipes and time saving tips to help busy families put nutritious food on table. Wood graduated with a pre-med bachelors degree in nutritional science in 2001, completed her dietetic internship in 2007 and went on to complete a master’s degree in food and nutrition in 2011.

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