By Neesha Gill
Ever wondered why you’re packing on loads of weight, even though you think you’re eating healthfully? The truth is, many foods we perceive to be healthy (thanks to clever marketing, usually) may be far from it! Some contain hidden ingredients like trans fats, which the body has a hard time breaking down, as well as artificial colourings and preservatives. But added sugar is, arguably, the most common culprit–it’s put into foods to increase their flavour, especially in reduced fat foods.
But just because there’s a nutrition-oriented statement on the package (like “contains whole grain,” “excellent source of calcium,” “fat-free,” “100% juice” or “25% less sugar”) doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain a shocking amount of sugar. And just because the brand name or product name sounds like it’s good for weight loss (Weight Watchers, Skinny Cow, etc.), don’t assume the food is lower in sugar.
So how much exactly is a gram of sugar? One teaspoon of granulated sugar equals 4 grams. In other words, 16 grams of sugar in a product is equal to about 4 teaspoons of granulated sugar. Women’s recommended daily sugar intake is around 25 grams, and men’s 36, but it’s very easy to exceed that without even knowing it, thanks to hidden added sugars in commercial products. No wonder there’s an obesity epidemic!
Whilst it was once thought that sugar was only bad for our teeth, people are waking up to the fact that sugar is incredibly harmful to our health overall. Researchers now say that it’s implicated in the rise of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, depression and even cancer.
Yet as consumers try to avoid sugar in food, companies have gotten wise to that and have started to disguise the sugar in their products, so it’s not as apparent how much sugar you are consuming–but don’t be fooled. ‘Sugar’ is seen on the label as a long list in many different forms you should be aware of, including:
- Agave nectar, Brown sugar, Cane crystal, Cane sugar, Corn sweetener. Corn syrup
- Crystalline fructose, Dextrose, Evaporated cane juice, Organic evaporated cane juice
- Fructose, Fruit juice concentrates, Glucose, High-fructose corn syrup, Honey, Invert sugar
- Lactose, Maltose, Malt syrup, Molasses, Raw sugar, Sucrose, Syrup
Basically, if it has -ose at the end of it, avoid it. But don’t think going ‘sugar free’ is any better: commercial brands that use this label often substitute sugar with something far deadlier: artificial sweeteners. These have been linked to metabolic disorders, liver problems, cancer, and ironically, weight gain.
It may seem like a quagmire, but there are easy ways to reduce your sugar intake–education is the first step! Learn about the hidden sugars in 10 common foods and either avoid them, or substitute them for healthier options, as explained below.
1. Breakfast Cereals
Whilst it’s pretty obvious that cereals like ‘Froot Loops’ or ‘Honey Nut Cheerios’ and just about anything aimed at children are packed with sugar, even more ‘adult’ options like granola are certainly not as nutritious as they may appear. A single bowl of Quaker Oat Granola, for example, can have 23 grams of sugar–almost a woman’s entire daily intake. Add dried fruit and the GI is off the charts.
What to eat instead: Muselli is usually lower in both fat and sugar. You can also make your own sugar free granola with recipes like these:
Whilst rice and vegetables may seem healthy, the reality is that sushi (especially the cheap supermarket kind) is high in low fibre carbs, salt and calories and low in just about anything else, including protein. And yes, did you know that sushi rice wouldn’t be sushi rice without some added sugar?
What to eat instead: Home made brown rice sushi is great! Otherwise, when going out, try sashimi. This is low sugar, low cal, 100% protein, and is usually very low in sodium (depending on how much soy sauce you add)
3. Commercial Sauces & Soups
Whether it’s a spicy curry sauce, savoury BBQ sauce or a basic tomato sauce for your spaghetti, almost anything in a jar will come with loads of added sugar–and that includes soup.
What to eat instead: Check the labels–there’s really no need for added sugar in something like chicken soup, right? But for some sauces, like BBQ or Sweet’n’Sour, there will be sugar–just check to see which brand has the lowest, if you must use one of those sauces. The best option? Make your own!
You can pile on as many fresh fruit toppings as you like, but frozen yoghurt itself is as just as bad as eating ice-cream in terms of sugar content. Consider this as a dessert, not a healthy snack.
What to eat instead: Try making your own frozen desserts, using these recipes.
Smoothies are definitely having a moment right now, and can certainly be a healthy option, so long as you consider them part of a meal rather than a drink (they have calories, of course, unlike coffee, tea or water) and choose the right kind. But commercial ones are usually packed full of sugar or high in calories thanks to highly concentrated fruit juice–some even contain more sugar than fizzy drinks!
What to eat instead:If you’re getting one in a restaurant, ask whether they’re using concentrated fruit juice. Many do. As for anything pre-made in a bottle, well–better just to make your own. Try these recipes–it’s easy to make a healthy smoothie!
6. All Kinds of Bread
It should go without saying that white bread is full of sugar–it’s a highly processed ‘food’ after all! But don’t be fooled by multigrain and wheat breads–many are only ‘brown’ thanks to carmel colouring, and surprisingly, many also contain much added sugar. Make sure you read the label first, as some breads can contain up to 16g of sugar for a single slice! Sometimes, ‘refined grains’ are often also added, which up the GI and reduce the nutritional value.
What to eat instead: Try rye bread, which has a lower GI, or even better, get some spelt bread, which is full of B vitamins.
7. Condiments and Salad Dressing
Ketchup has long been been known to be packed with sugar–around 4g per tablespoon, in fact. But other condiments, like Thousand Island salad dressing, Honey Mustard salad dressing, relish and even spicy salsa can even contain more sugar–one salsa brand has 7 grams of sugar per serving!
What to eat instead: Add flavour to your food with basic oil, balsamic vinegar and lemon, or read the labels and choose the condiment with the lowest sugar.
8. Tinned Baked Beans
Whilst baked beans are high in fibre, most branded tins contain lots of sugar, colourants and additives.
What to eat instead: Make your own! Buy plain white, navy or black beans and add your own tomato sauce, either organic from a jar, or home made.
Just because it has ‘apple’ in the name, some brand sprinkled inside or a few oats and seeds on top doesn’t mean a muffin is healthy! Many found in coffee shops are just basically cakes, packed full of sugar, chemicals and trans fats.
What to eat instead: If you want cake, eat cake. It’s probably got fewer artificial ingredients than a commercial muffin. Otherwise, make your own from recipes like these from the Minimalist Baker.
10. Reduced Fat Yogurt
Reduced fat yogurt actually contains around the same amount of calories as the normal kind, thanks to a higher sugar content. And don’t think diet yogurts are any better: they usually use carcinogenic sweeteners. Ew!
What to eat instead: Buy some plain, organic Greek style yogurt and add your own fruit and a touch of natural sweetener, like Stevia or coconut sugar. We also like vegan friendly soya yogurt, though watch the label for added sugars, too!