How much sugar is hiding in your food?

7 Feb

You may have cut out adding white sugar to your cereal or coffee, but did you know that you’re still getting loads of sugar in many of the products you buy?

sugars hidden in food

Sure, you realize that there’s sugar in the obvious things like candy, soda, snack cakes and cookies. But do you also know that there’s lots of added sugar in products like spaghetti sauce, tonic water, fruit cocktail, fruit punch, frozen pancakes, baked beans, canned soup, ketchup, barbecue sauce, salad dressings, flavored popcorn, energy drinks, and even granola?

These added sources of sugar multiply quickly in your diet, but are quite mysterious to most consumers. When food manufacturers add sugar to a product, the label doesn’t always list it as “sugar”, because it takes many forms: high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, glucose, fructose, sucrose, maltose, lactose, corn starch, dextroglucose, evaporated cane sugar, maltodextrin, or dozens of other names. And on “natural” labels, you might see brown rice syrup, agave nectar, or pear juice. Yep, they’re added sugars, too. Here’s an excellent primer on sugars from Colorado State University.

So how do you know if sugar is added to your food?

The safest thing to assume about prepared food that comes in a bottle, bag, or a box (including any and all fast food) is that sugar has been added to it, and probably in copious amounts. Manufacturers do this because quite frankly, we humans love it and can’t seem to get enough of it. But unfortunately, we’ve so overloaded our bodies with it, that new research has even linked sugar to heart disease, even in those who aren’t obese or diabetic. The study also proves a link between sugar and high blood pressure, inflammation, and unhealthy triglyceride and cholesterol levels. Very sobering.

Here’s an infographic from the Cleveland Clinic on hidden sugars.

hidden sugar in food

Click for full size

How to reduce sugar in your diet

If there is no added sugar in a product, the manufacturer will most likely note that on the front of the package, or the packaging will describe it as “100% (something)”. The simplest way to avoid added sugar in your diet is to spend more time in the kitchen cooking your own meals, just like your grandma did. It doesn’t have to be difficult – a box of 100% whole wheat pasta and a can of tomatoes (not sauce) is the start of an excellent, nutrition-rich meal. Or brown rice and a can of black beans. Roast a chicken on the weekend and pick it apart for sandwiches during the week, and throw pieces in your tomatoes and pasta for a cacciatore. Cook a big pot of soup or stew on the weekend and use it in the first half of the week. You get the idea.

And become a label reader in the supermarket. There’s no shame in it, and you and your family will get a lot healthier.

Read more: Harvard School of Public Health: Added Sugar in the diet.

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