We know that sugars are added to many of our foods to sweeten them and make them taste a little better. Sometimes we add on even more sugar ourselves (think about adding sugar to your bowl of cereal, or getting fudge on top of your dish of ice cream). The sweetening of our diet has become something that we hear a lot about as it undoubtedly contributes to excess calories, promotes further intake, and adds on pounds. Americans are consuming more sugar than we should, 3-4 times more than recommended by the American Heart Association. Many people are trying to cut back on added sweeteners, opting for foods that are “sugar-free” or “natural.” It is a great idea to try to eat healthier and cutting back on added sugars is one way to achieve that goal. However, it isn’t easy.
Sugars are added to items that we typically think of when we have a “sweet tooth,” such as ice cream, cookies and cakes. Also, most of us who are trying to avoid added sugars know to steer clear of sugar- and HFCS-sweetened beverages. But beyond these items, it becomes more difficult to discern which food items contain added sugars.
Here are 10 places you will find added sugar, where you probably least expected it:
1. Salami. Cured meats like salami and pepperoni often contain seasonings, and sugar. Watch out for other dried meats and jerkies; they are also usually laced with added sugar.
2. Peanuts. Sure, we know that you can buy honey-roasted peanuts and other candied nuts that have sugar. But, watch out for what appear to be sugar-free varieties. “Seasoned dry roasted” peanuts and other mixed nuts can have added sugar. Same goes for peanut butter. Most varieties have added sugar, so you have to search for one that is simply just peanuts.
3. Bread. Unless you are baking it yourself, your bread probably contains added sugar. Most likely it is in the form of high-fructose corn syrup. Just because it says “multi-grain” on the label doesn’t mean it is healthier than white bread. Both can have added sugars.
4. Water. Yup. Vitamin Water contains added sugar. I guess “Sugar Water” probably wouldn’t sell as well.
5. Yogurt. This is especially true for the ones that contain fruit. While yogurt appears to be a healthy snack (fruit and dairy), many yogurts contain a lot of added sugar in the fruit flavoring. You are better off with eating a plain yogurt and adding your own fresh fruit (which also contains sugar in the form of fructose, but at least it isn’t added).
6. Energy bars. Unfortunately, the “energy” in energy bars often comes from a hefty dose of added sugar.
7. Salad dressing. Sounds like a healthy way to jazz up your greens, right? Not if you are trying to cut back on sugar intake. Many contain added sugars. Be extra wary of ones that are marketed as “fat-free”, as these often replace the flavor lost when they take out the fat with more added sugars.
8. Baked beans. Canned baked beans have added sugars.
9. Tomato soup. It doesn’t taste sweet, but it is. Condensed or ready-to-eat, both can contain added sugars.
10. Crackers. We all know graham crackers contain added sugars, but what about others that aren’t outright sweet? Some seemingly sugar-free crackers, like Ritz Original Crackers, contain added sugar. It’s called glucose syrup.
With sugar hiding in so many places, what can you do to cut back on your intake? First and foremost, you need to read and scrutinize the ingredients labels. Just because something isn’t obviously sweet or sugary doesn’t mean it is sugar-less. Also, it is important to understand all of the different names out there for “sugar”, such as glucose syrup, corn syrup and sucrose (just to name a few), so you can recognize it when you see it. It might take a little bit of detective work, but if you really want to reduce your intake of added sugars, you have to know where to find added sugars in your diet so you can replace them with alternatives.
Dr. Nicole Avena is a research neuroscientist/psychologist and expert in the fields of nutrition, diet and addiction. She has published over 50 scholarly journal articles, as well as several book chapters on topics related to food, addiction, obesity and eating disorders. She recently edited the book, Animal Models of Eating Disorders (Springer/Humana Press, 2013), and she has a book Why Diets Fail (Ten Speed/Crown) available for preorder now and to be released Dec. 3, 2013. Her research achievements have been honored by awards from several groups including the New York Academy of Sciences, the American Psychological Association, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and her research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Eating Disorders Association.