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Are the negative health effects of sugar starting to freak you out?
Maybe you’ve tossed your candy, cookies, and daily desserts aside in the interest of eating healthier. That’s a great start, but in all likelihood, it’s only making a dent in your overall sugar consumption.
The truth is, most processed foods have far more sugar than you would expect from their taste alone. Sugar is used both as a preservation agent and a flavor mask when companies pull the fat content out of food, meaning that even seemingly savory dishes like tomato soup can be loaded with a full day’s supply.
Today, the average adult consumes almost 32 teaspoons (126 grams) of added sugars a day, much of it in seemingly healthy foods. In contrast, the American Health Organization suggests that adults eat no more than 6 to 9 teaspoons (36 grams) a day. This means that most people are eating four or more times the sugar they should—and much of it comes in forms they aren’t even aware of.
Navigating this world of added sugar is anything but easy, as most food manufacturers are keen to keep you in the dark about what their products genuinely contain. Understanding where added sugar lurks in your daily diet is the first step toward cutting it out for good, and this article is designed to show you how.
But first, why is sugar so dangerous in the first place?
Why Is Sugar Bad for You?
It might be hard to think of your daily candy bar as devastating for your body, but health research consistently shows that sugar might be one of the most damaging substances you can consume. Because the human body evolved during a time when sugar was scarce, it’s hardly surprising that our bodies haven’t adjusted to the plentiful portions available today.
This means that the approximately 300 to 500 empty calories from sugar you eat daily may someday lead to a variety of negative symptoms, including type 2 (and 3) diabetes, cancer, cavities, broken bones, general malaise, and more. Sugar has been linked to most chronic diseases, and cutting down your consumption is one of the best things you can do for your long-term health.
Creating Marketing Tactics in the Sugar Industry
It’s wrong to assume that the added sugar in processed food is an innocent mistake; in contrast, it’s part of a concentrated effort by the food industry to get us comfortable consuming more of their products.
In many ways, parallels can be drawn between sugar lobbies and the tobacco industry, as both invest billions of dollars to circumvent scientific research and find new ways to convince consumers that their products aren’t as dangerous as they seem.
For instance, during World War 1, sugar was advertised as a quick energy builder that could build muscles in minutes, making it a practically patriotic item to ration for America’s soldiers. Later, it was advertised almost exclusively as a “chemically pure food” because of the lack of other ingredients contaminating its chemical structure—that these missing components were essential vitamins and minerals was conveniently left out..
Finally, rebranding sugar as a “carbohydrate” moved it from the realm of dessert to the largest food group. Most people know that they are supposed to eat several servings of carbs each day, and putting refined sugar into the same nutritional category as brown rice makes it seem significantly less threatening.
Thanks in part to this clever marketing, Americans have moved from consuming 60 pounds of sugar a year in the 1920s to over 130 pounds annually today. And in most cases, this sugar isn’t coming from homemade cookies—it’s found in a pernicious variety of hidden forms on supermarket shelves.
Where Is ‘Hidden’ Sugar Most Common?
It’s usually bad for business if companies let on about how much sugar their products contain, so the food industry has devised clever ways of concealing the sugar content in food. Today, there are almost 40 industrial names for sugar, including brown rice syrup, carob syrup, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, high fructose corn syrup, malt syrup, sucrose, and more. A cursory look at a food label often isn’t enough to track all these sugar references, which is what companies rely on to get their product in your shopping cart.
These 25 foods may shock you with their sugar content, and finding ways to quarter your daily consumption might come down to addressing their role in your diet today.
Remember: your daily sugar consumption should be around 30 grams, meaning many of these foods can put you close to the limit with a single serving.
#1. Barbeque Sauce
While this savory seasoning is synonymous with picnics and roasted meats, it packs a punch of sugar that will likely surprise you. Just one tablespoon contains at least 6 grams, and even a modest plate of ribs will quickly pile on 20 grams or more.
#2. Flavored Yogurt
Though touted as a health food, overly flavored yogurt can contain as much sugar as a candy bar. Fruit-filled flavors and brands marketed toward children tend to be the sweetest, and beware any advertised as “low fat.” It’s common for companies to make up for lost flavor in low-fat varieties by filling the void with added sugars instead, meaning the “healthier” product often has the same number of calories as the full-fat version. Many yogurts contain between 19 and 33 grams of sugar per 8-ounce serving, making your “healthy” snack little better than a scoop of ice cream.
A better option? Buy your yogurt plain and add in your own fruit.
#3. Pasta Sauce
Few people think of spaghetti sauce as a sweet topping, but processed tomato products are notorious for being off the charts with their sugar content. While some of this sugar comes naturally from the tomatoes, it’s also added as a preservative and flavor enhancer. A single half-cup serving can contain 12 grams of sugar or more, and the damage is multiplied when you pair it with a starchy pasta that quickly breaks down into simple sugars in your digestive system.
You know that soda contains tons of added sugar, but the overall amounts may still be shocking. A single 8-ounce can of Coca-Cola contains 29 grams, and a medium-sized fast food drink has 44 grams.
Even worse? Energy drinks.
These caffeinated cans are veritable sugar bombs, and some brands pack in 83 grams of sugar per serving.
Being found in “healthy” foods doesn’t make this natural sweetener any better for your body than traditional table sugar. In fact, agave is 85 percent fructose, meaning that it strains your body when the liver metabolizes it. Despite convincing marketing by agave suppliers, your body is better equipped to handle sucrose-based cane sugar (though neither form has many redeeming qualities for your health).
#6. Instant Oatmeal
Oatmeal can be an ideal health food, but instant packets are usually stuffed with added sugar—as much as 15 grams per serving. For a healthier option that still has enough sweetness to keep you satisfied, opt for plain oatmeal and add fresh apple slices and cinnamon.
#7. Granola Bars (and Granola in General)
More often than one would prefer, granola bars are merely rebranded candy bars. Their chocolatey coatings can quickly add up to 12 grams or more of added sugar, and even “naked” varieties usually contain concentrated servings of fruit mixed with honey, corn syrup, brown sugar, and other sweeteners.
A bowl of granola can be equally damaging with 10 grams of sugar or more per half cup, and it’s all too easy to eat multiple servings in a single sitting. If you simply need to satisfy your sweet tooth, toss a small handful into your plain yogurt to ensure you maintain a healthy serving size.
#8. Breakfast Cereal
As with granola, almost all cereal brands are bad news for your sugar levels. Even “adult” brands like Raisin Bran contain 18 grams per cup (with about 9 grams of that coming from the raisins)[ https://www.huffingtonpost.com/hemi-weingarten/raisin-bran-deconstructed_b_552981.html], meaning that you can easily get much of your sugar content for the day within an hour of waking up.
#9. Salad Dressing
What’s the easiest way to compromise the nutritional content of your salad? Coat it in sugary dressings. Sweet, fruity vinaigrettes can pass on 5 to 7 grams of sugar in just two tablespoons, turning your healthy salad into an unexpected sugar bomb. To avoid the threat, use a light homemade vinegar dressing and toss in some fresh fruit instead.
#10. Dried Fruit
As healthy as it sounds, dried fruit can quickly cause you to overload on sugar. Most brands list sugar as their second ingredient, and a 1/3 cup serving can quickly top 24 grams. You aren’t much safer if you stick to brands without added sugar, as the drying process concentrates fruit sugars in each piece, meaning that a half cup of dried apples can contain the same amount of sugar as two to three fresh ones, or 40 to 60 grams of sugar.
It turns out this supposedly healthy side dish is often anything but. A standard serving can contain at least 15 grams of sugar, usually because of the sugary vinaigrette that the cabbage gets drenched in. The good news? Making your own lets you control the sugar content and can let you keep this dish in your food repertoire.
#12. Bottled Tea
Staying away from juice and soda might be second nature for you, but it’s easy to forget that bottled sweet tea can be just as damaging. Many brands contain upwards of 32 grams per bottle, maxing out your sugar quota for the day in a single carton. A better choice is brewing your own and adding lemon juice for flavor instead of sweeteners.
French fries’ favorite companion boasts an impressive sugar content. At 4 grams per tablespoon, it’s best to keep in mind that those squirts add up. For sugar-free flavor, stick to mustard or malt vinegar instead.
What could be unhealthy about rice and vegetables? In truth, cheap supermarket sushi contains much more than these wholesome ingredients. Sushi rice usually contains added sugar, and the imitation crab meat, sweet and sour sauces, and rice vinegar all lead to 2 to 4 grams of sugar per piece. If you wish to indulge, stick with high-quality sushi and sashimi instead.
The term “smoothie” can refer to anything from a wheatgrass blend to pureed frozen yogurt, so making comprehensive statements about their sugar content is close to impossible. To keep yourself from sipping on a sugar trap, stick with homemade varieties that rely on plain yogurt and fruits and vegetables for nutrition. Otherwise, you risk having your “health drink” really be a fruity form of ice cream.
#16. Most Bread
It’s no surprise that white bread is filled with sugar, but the amount in most “healthy” breads may astound you. Many wheat breads are only brown because of caramel coloring, and a single sandwich can give you 3 to 5 grams of sugar from the bread alone. Be especially careful with premade sandwiches in the supermarket deli—many contain sugary dressings to remove bitter tastes. Bagels, muffins, and English muffins are even more sugar prone, especially if you top them with jam or peanut butter.
#17. Canned Baked Beans
Most canned foods have the potential to be a disaster for your health, but baked beans are especially notorious for their sugar content, which can top 30 grams per can. The good news is that making your own is easy, and the results are far more tasty and nutritious than their canned counterparts.
#18. Fruity Muffins
Despite its name, an apple-oatmeal muffin is rarely a health food. Many commercial muffins have quadrupled in size in the past decades, and their sugar content has increased to the point that they are basically personal-sized cakes. Treat these muffins like the dessert they really are by eating them in moderation.
Mixed drinks pack a major punch of added sugar into your daily life, and overindulging on Friday nights won’t do your body any favors. One pint of hard cider can contain 20 grams or more of sugar, and sweet white wines can top 6 grams per glass. If you must imbibe, stick to dry red wines, as they tend to have less sugar—or fully fermented white or red wines[http://www.dryfarmwines.com/thegrownetwork], which are statistically sugar free.
#20. Canned Soup
It goes without saying that canned soup is high in sodium, but this classic processed food also contains more than its fair share of sweeteners. Like salt, sugar works as a preservative to extend soup’s shelf life, and a single can often contains 15 grams or more. In fact, canned tomato soup easily tops 25 grams per serving, so you might be better off leaving it on the shelf.
#21. Frozen Dinners
Who knew meat and veggies could be so sweet? It’s shocking how much sugar can be found in these classic convenience foods, but one look at labels reveals that 30 to 40 grams of sugar per serving isn’t uncommon, WITHOUT counting the dessert.
#22. Natural Fruit Juice
It’s clear to most that it’s best to avoid high fructose corn syrup, but even natural sugars can have negative effects on your body. Eating a piece of fresh fruit provides your body with fiber, but just drinking the juice gives your system a rush of sugar that’s hard to process. Just one cup of unsweetened apple juice provides 25 grams of sugar.
#23. Canned Fruit
Canned fruit companies seemingly never got the memo that fruit is naturally sweet, because most forms are loaded with sugar-filled juices and syrups that act as preservatives. A single cup of canned fruit contains 30 grams or more of sugar, meaning you might as well eat seven Oreos and be done with it.
#24. Instant Gravy
Does your meatloaf really need an injection of extra sugar? Then stay away from instant gravy. In fact, since many types also contain palm oil and artificial colors and preservatives, sugar might be the safest ingredient in this side dish. Even so, it doesn’t hurt to skip out on the 2 grams of sugar per serving it contains.
#25. Peanut Butter
Though peanut butter sandwiches are a staple of childhood, many brands contain over 3 grams of sugar per serving. To avoid any added ingredients, stick to natural brands, and top your sandwich with fresh fruit, not jelly.
Bonus: #26. Infant Formula
Does your newborn baby need sugar? Then why on earth is it an ingredient in many infant formulas? Many U.S. formula brands contain corn syrup and sugar, but these companies often aren’t required to list their nutritional information. However, research shows that many brands include around 3 grams of sugar per serving.
Because sugar addiction starts young and can last for life, it’s important to think twice before feeding sweetened formula to your infant.
Less Sugar = Better Health
Hidden sugar is found in almost every processed food available today, but there’s a lot you can do to keep your levels in check and avoid the chronic disease it causes.
By avoiding these 25 sugar bombs in the grocery store, you can dramatically lower your daily consumption … and enjoy the sugar that you do you consume with more gusto—and better health.Save
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