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June 29, 2021

What’s Your Food Hiding? The Secrets of Hidden Sugar

by Nadeen N. Risi, MS, RDN, LDN

What do you think of when a dietitian asks where do you get sugar from? The typical responses are desserts, like cookies and cakes, beverages like sodas and sweet tea, and fruits (though they are a natural sugar source). But what most do not realize is that they are getting added sugars from foods they have on a regular basis and sometimes, it is a larger portion of sugar. The American Heart Association estimates the average American takes in about 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day. This is roughly 3 times higher than the recommended amount, which is 25 to 30 grams of added sugar per day for women and men respectively (about six to nine teaspoons).

What else can sugar be called?

Nutrition labels are required now to separate the naturally occurring sugars from added sugars. This is a good first step to start looking at the added sugar content of foods and minimizing foods that contain high amounts. Reviewing the ingredient list is also extremely helpful – there are OVER 60 names for added sugar.

Major key words that reflect added sugars:

  • Syrup: corn syrup, rice syrup, maple syrup
  • Words that end in “ose”: fructose, sucrose, maltose, dextrose
  • “Sugars”: raw, cane, brown, confection
  • Others: nectars, juice concentrate, honey, agave, molasses

Major Foods with Hidden Sugar

  1. Breakfast Cereals

I am not talking about the obvious choices such as Lucky Charms or Fruity Pebbles. Even the “healthy” cereals can have 10 to 20 grams or more per cup. Even flavored instant oatmeal can have 10 to 15 grams of added sugar per packet. Try looking for options that have less than 10 grams of sugar or better yet look for a plain cereal or oatmeal and add some fresh fruit.

  1. Yogurt

Plain yogurt has some natural sugar (lactose) in it already, so with the flavored yogurts, sugars can add up quickly. Some flavors have as much as 20 grams of added sugar for 8 ounces. It is recommended to find a yogurt that has less than 12g of sugar per serving.

  1. Condiments

Condiments can include salad dressing, ketchup, barbeque sauce, teriyaki sauce, pasta sauces, and many more. Serving sizes tend to be 1 to 2 tablespoons, but the average American uses multiple servings and those added sugars increase quickly. Be mindful of how much is used at a time – enough to get the flavor, but not enough to smother your foods.

  1. Beverages

In addition to sodas, other beverages include juices, energy drinks, sports drinks and flavored milks. Like yogurt, when flavors are added, then sugar content tends to increase as well. A glass of orange juice can at times be just as high in added sugars as a glass of soda.

Being aware of where your sugar is coming from is extremely important, especially if you are managing other chronic concerns such as diabetes, inflammatory issues or cardiovascular diseases. Reading the nutrition facts label and the ingredient list is a starting point to being more mindful of your added sugar intake.



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