How to Avoid Hidden Sugars in Processed Foods

By Erin DeMito, R.D., L.D.N.

1426045_92427882Earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) released draft guidelines for recommended daily sugar intake in the adult population. The draft guidelines are a potential update to its current 2002 recommendation, which states that sugars should make up less than 10% of total energy intake per day. The new guidelines further suggest that a “reduction to below 5% of total energy intake per day would have benefits.” This equates to about 25 grams (about 6 teaspoons) of sugar per day for an adult with a normal Body Mass Index (BMI).

Sugar intake has been an ongoing hot topic in the news and for good reason. Added sugar contributes to increased calorie consumption, which increases the risk for an unhealthy diet, weight gain, dental caries and diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.

So what is your first step in reducing your added sugar intake?

Read the nutrition label, specifically the ingredient list. Try to limit – if not avoid altogether – foods listing sugar as an added ingredient. This is not as easy as it sounds, however, because the majority of the sugar we consume on a daily basis comes from added or “hidden” sugars in processed foods. This includes foods not traditionally thought as “sweet,” like ketchup.

On an ingredient list, sugar goes by many different names. Here are some of the other names for “sugar” you may find on the nutrition label:

  • Barley Malt
  • Caramel
  • Carob Syrup
  • Corn Syrup
  • Dextran
  • Dextrose
  • Fructose
  • Glucose
  • Golden Syrup
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Lactose
  • Malt Syrup
  • Maltodextrin
  • Maltose
  • Mannitol
  • Refiner’s Syrup
  • Sorbitol
  • Sorghum Syrup
  • Sucrose

Where do you find these hidden sugars?

Well, you know the obvious foods that contain large amounts of added sugar – desserts, cookies, candies, soda, etc. There are many foods that you may believe to be “healthy,” but are actually loaded with added sugar. Here are some of the biggest culprits:

Flavored Yogurt

213406_7960All yogurt contains natural milk sugars in the form of lactose. However, flavored yogurts contain added sugar in the form of fruit or fruit flavoring, but this flavoring can total up to 19 grams of sugar per serving.

Beat the Sweet: Choose plain yogurt and flavor it yourself with a handful of nuts, such as almonds or walnuts, or fresh fruit. For additional benefits, choose Greek yogurt. It has more than two times the amount of protein compared to traditional yogurt.

Granola Bars

Despite convenience, some granola bars should be considered more of a candy bar with 13 grams of sugar or more per bar.

Beat the Sweet: Make your own trail mix using traditional granola bar ingredients like nuts, seeds, whole oats and unsweetened dried fruit. By choosing the whole foods form, you’re getting all the great vitamins and minerals without the added sugar!

226862_2841Pasta Sauce

Sugar is often added to store-bought pasta to counter the acidity of the tomatoes. The total amount can be up to 12 grams per half cup.

Beat the Sweet: Use canned, unseasoned chopped or crushed tomatoes to make your own sauce. Keep it healthy by avoiding added salt and sugar, and instead choose fresh or dried herbs, garlic, onions, etc. to make it your own!

Peanut Butter

The sweet taste of traditionally popular peanut butters is the result of added sugar. Mostly in the form of High Fructose Corn Syrup, the sugar content varies by brand.

Beat the Sweet: Choose a peanut butter with one or two ingredients, at most – peanuts OR peanuts and salt. As an added tip, the natural oil in unprocessed peanut butter will separate from its solid parts. To avoid the mixing mess, store your peanut butter upside-down before opening to dissipate the oil evenly.

Salad Dressing

This is particularly true if you’re choosing a low-fat or fat-free salad dressing. Sugar is often added to make up for the flavor lost by removing the fat.

Beat the Sweet: Whenever possible, make your own! Use heart-healthy olive oil and mix in balsamic vinegar or lemon juice, fresh herbs, and Dijon mustard for a tangy twist. If you’re dining out, choose an oil-based dressing and ask for it “on the side.” Then dip your fork into the dressing before each bite to control calories.

1The WHO draft guidelines are open for public consultation through March 31.

2 Responses

  1. Cynthia Brown

    This website is extremely informative thank you for giving me the confidence to know, that I am already eating right.

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