You'll Be Surprised How Much Sugar These 10 Foods Have

by Julie Rains on 16 June 2014 4 comments

Like many people, I'm an avid food label reader, and I'm always on the lookout for added sugar. I know to look for high-fructose corn syrup along with sugar and honey. But then I discovered via Mayo Clinic that sugar can be disguised as fruit juice concentrates, fruit nectars, malt syrup, molasses, and cane syrup and lots of other less sugary sounding ingredients. Upon closer inspection, I found many healthy-sounding food and beverage products contained hidden sugar. (See also: 10 Fat-Filled Foods You Should Stop Avoiding)

Here's what to look for in the label — and what you should substitute with.

Note: As you're reading, keep in mind that the American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 6 teaspoons (or 30 grams) of added sugar per day and no more than 9 teaspoons (or 45 grams) for men. So, read your labels to detect and avoid hidden sugar.

1. Flavored Yogurt (Even Vanilla!)

I had heard that fruit yogurts have an extra dose of sugar, so I have avoided those for years.

But until recently, I never noticed how much sugar my go to brand — Stonyfield Low-Fat French Vanilla yogurt — contained. It has 29 grams per one-cup serving, more than double the sugar content of the company's plain whole milk version, which has 12 grams per cup.

Substitute: Use plain yogurt instead of flavored ones, even vanilla.

2. Fruit Smoothies

I love fruit smoothies and typically make and consume my own as fuel for long runs or multi-hour bike rides. On a few occasions, I have sampled and loved commercial versions, which often seem healthy considering their names. But many are loaded with concentrated fruit juices.

A medium Peach Perfection smoothie from Jamba Juice has 59 grams of sugar. A 16-ounce serving of the Blueberry Pomegranate Smoothie from McDonald's has 54 grams and the Orange Mango Smoothie from Starbucks has 37 grams of sugar.

Substitute: Make your own smoothies at home using plain yogurt and fresh or frozen fruit (without added sugar), unsweetened almond milk, water, or ice.

3. Dried Cranberries

I used to eat dried cranberries to get a dose of antioxidants along with a boost of energy. But after reading the fine print on the ingredient label, I switched to lower-sugar snacks.

Most dried cranberries contain sugar to make the otherwise bitter fruit palatable; similarly, dried fruit of all kinds tend to have sugar added for tastiness and preservation purposes.

One-fourth cup of Ocean Spray Craisins (dried cranberries) has 29 grams of sugar and a similar portion of Woodstock All-Natural Dried Blueberries contains the same amount of sugar.

Substitute: Keep fresh or frozen fruit handy so you can avoid the dried stuff.

4. Hazelnut Spreads

Nuts have lots of healthy fats, so nut spreads would seem to be healthy.

But watch out for added sugar in nutty spreads.Nutella hazelnut spread has 21 grams of sugar in each two tablespoon serving. Likewise,Jif Hazelnut Spreads contain 22-23 grams of sugar per serving.

Substitute: Stick with all-natural nut butters made without added sugar.

5. Low-Fat and Fat-Free Salad Dressings

Regular salad dressings typically contain one or two grams of sugar per two-tablespoon servings but fat-free or low-fat versions often have much more. To enhance the flavor lost to reduced fat, food manufacturers often add sugar to boost tastiness.

Ken's Fat-Free Sun Dried Tomato Vinaigrette has 12 grams of sugar per serving; Kraft's French Style Creamy Lite, six grams per serving; and Wendy's Low-fat Honey Mustard Salad Dressing, 16 grams per packet.

Substitute: Choose regular salad dressings or make your own to control the ingredients.

6. Tomato-Based Products

Many tomato-based products, such as pasta sauce and even tomato soups, contain extra sugar. Though sweet stuff can counteract the acidity of tomatoes, make sure you aren't consuming too much of the wrong thing.

Prego Heart Smart Traditional Italian Sauce contains 10 grams of sugar per half-cup serving;Classico Traditional Pasta Sauce has 9 grams; and Bertolli Marinara Sauce, 12 grams. Similarly, Campbell's Healthy Request Tomato Soup has 10 grams of sugar in a half-cup serving.

Substitute: Choose brands with the lowest amount of sugar or make your own sauces and soups. (See also: 8 Swanky Sauces That Glamorize Dinner)

7. Baked Beans

Baked beans contain protein and fiber. They are a common, relatively healthy accompaniment to a grilled burger.

But many types of baked beans contain added sugar. Bush's Homestyle Baked Beans contain 12 grams of sugar per half-cup serving and its Country Style version has 16 grams.Van Camp's Original Baked Beans are slightly better, containing 11 grams of sugar per serving.

Substitute: Make your own reduced-sugar version of baked beans or serve black beans instead.

8. Fruity Drinks

Beverages with fruit as an ingredient are naturally sweet but many have fruit concentrates added.

Ocean Spray 100% Juice Cranberry has 36 grams of sugar per 8-ounce serving. SunnyD Orange Mango Juice has 28 grams of sugar in a 16-ounce bottle and Snapple Peach Mangosteen has 40 grams of sugar in a similarly-sized bottle.

Substitute: Go for real fruit juices without fruit concentrates or simply drink water when you're thirsty.

9. Marinades

Marinades liven otherwise bland food. But many flavorful items, such as teriyaki and barbecue sauces, contain added sugar.

Lawry's Teriyaki Marinade with Pineapple Juice has 7 grams of sugar and Mrs. Dash Sweet Teriyaki Marinade has 8 grams of sugar per tablespoon. Sweet Baby Ray's Barbecue Sauce has 16 grams of sugar and Hunt's Original BBQ Sauce has 11 grams of sugar per two-tablespoon serving.

Substitute: Make your own marinades or just go easy on the sauce's quantities to control your sugar intake.

10. Wholesome Breakfast Foods

I just compared the sugar content of my healthy (sounding) breakfast food with fiber, protein, and whole grains to my son's Cheerios. It turns out that I am taking in about 11 grams of sugar to his one gram in a regular serving.

Bear Naked Protein Granola Original Cinnamon has 6 grams of sugar per one-fourth cup serving. Nature Path's Flax Plus Hot Oatmeal has 10 grams of sugar in a serving.

Substitute: Look for cereals or other breakfast foods without heaps of sugar mixed in with whole grains and protein.

Have you switched brands or made substitutions to reduce your sugar intake? Share your tips in the comments.

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Guest's picture

I recently realized that my go-to yogurt had the same amount of sugar as a Snickers bar. Yup. I suppose the yogurt at least has some protein, but I started thinking I'd rather just eat the candy bar!

Julie Rains's picture

Your thoughts are similar to mine. Many of these high-sugar foods have health benefits or certain nutrients that are good for you (such as antioxidants or protein). But if you are simply trying to cut calories, you could occasionally eat the yummy stuff like candy bars or pastries instead of the food that sounds healthy but is loaded with sugar.

Guest's picture
Shan

I had to give up sugar for health reasons and so I knew I would be giving up most processed foods. But I was very surprised by all the other places it was hiding. Like tortillas and canned beans (like garbanzos) and canned baby corns and non-dairy milks and almond butter. It is everywhere so I have to be careful and read a lot of labels. At least there are more and more alternatives lately. My nearest health food store is 30 minutes away so I go there every couple of weeks, but also Fred Meyer has a great health food selection. I like their new "simple truth" brand.

Julie Rains's picture

My most recent experiences have taught me to read labels, not just some of them but all of them. I focused on what I thought were some of the worst offenders, but sugar is hidden everywhere from small to whopping amounts in various foods (even minimally processed ones).

Glad you have been able to find foods and brands that help you eliminate or avoid sugar.