Not that long ago, saturated fat was thought of as being the biggest threat to our health, and food manufacturers fell over themselves in the rush to get low-fat products on the market. But despite the fact that people cut saturated fat almost completely out of their diets, rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes have continued to rise; so surely if fat was the problem, we would be healthier? The more that scientists study the effect of different foods on our health, the clearer it is becoming that one of the most major culprits that is contributing to the skyrocketing rates of chronic disease is sugar.
In 1822, it took the average American 5 days to eat the amount of sugar that is found in a regular can of soda. Today, it is estimated that we eat that same amount every 7 hours, according to research by Dr. Stephan Guyenet. The typical American will eat over 100 pounds of added sugar each year, which is equal to about 22 teaspoons per day. And it’s hard to avoid. Some kind of sugar is added to the majority of processed foods, and often to foods that you would not think contained any kind of sweetener. Following are a few unexpected places where you may find added sugars.
Some Foods With Hidden Sugars
Instant oatmeal – Oatmeal is good for lowering cholesterol and is a low-glycemic food when eaten as steel-cut oats. However, many instant oatmeal packets are full of sugar and the oats are over-refined (so that they cook quickly) to the point where they are no longer low-glycemic. The benefit of oatmeal comes from the fact that steel-cut oats are digested slowly, releasing sugars gradually into the bloodstream. And forget about Quaker’s "Oatmeal to Go." They promote it as the portable equivalent of a healthy bowl of oatmeal, but in fact it contains 19 grams of sugar (including high fructose corn syrup, brown sugar and sugar), in addition to additives and preservatives a mile long.
Jams and jellies – These do normally have added sugar, but some are worse than others. Look for jam that is made from 100% fruit, as it will have the least amount of sugar. Some companies try to put one over on the consumer by listing the fruit first on the ingredient list, followed by sugar. However, this does not mean that there is not more sugar than fruit. The manufacturer will use two or three different kinds of sugar so that each one individually is not more than the amount of fruit in the jar, but when put together adds up to mostly sugar and little fruit.
Sauces – Sauces of all kinds (including ketchup) tend to have sugar in them, but particularly Asian sauces. Not only obvious sweet sauces like sweet and sour pork, but teriyaki beef is also often chock full of sugar.
Fruit juices – Many fruit juices are nothing more than fruit-flavored sugar water. Be sure that the juice you buy is made from "100% fruit juice."
Spaghetti sauce – After tomatoes, sugar (or corn syrup) is often the second ingredient listed on the label. There is no reason why manufacturers need to add sugar to spaghetti sauce unless they are using lower grade ingredients. Some chefs do add a pinch of sugar to their sauce to reduce the bite that tomatoes can have, but only in very tiny amounts. Better to buy plain crushed tomatoes or tomato puree and make up a quick and healthy sauce by sautéing an onion and some garlic, then adding the tomatoes and some oregano and thyme. Presto! Pasta sauce in minutes that’s sugar-free.
Bread – You would not necessarily think that there was as much sugar in the bread of the sandwich you are eating as there is in a donut, but it can all too often be the case. Of particular concern are breads touting themselves as "whole wheat bread." The glycemic index (the measurement of how much sugar food breaks down into) of whole grain bread is 72, whereas a Snickers bar has a glycemic index of only 41. Add to that the fact that manufacturers often add sugar to bread (be sure to read the label) and you may as well be eating a hot fudge sundae!
Ways to Avoid Added Sugars
When you go shopping, read the label on the foods you buy. Anything ending in "ose" or "tol" is a sugar derivative. For example, you will find many of the following listed on food labels: fructose, dextrose, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, sorbitol, galactose, lactose, polydextrose, mannitol, sorbitol and xylitol. Buy the product that has the fewest ingredients listed, and where sugar is the farthest down the list. That way you can enjoy the occasional sweet treat without overdoing it on the sugar.
The best way to cut sugar consumption is to cook everything you eat from scratch. That way you have control over how much sugar you take in. However, with today’s busy lifestyles, that is not always possible, so now that we have shown you ways to identify hidden sugars, you can make wiser choices at the supermarket.