Most processed foods are loaded with unnecessary sugars on purpose. When we eat sugar the brain’s reward center lights up and cravings get much stronger. Since sugar is highly addictive, the more you eat, the more you crave. Food companies use this to their advantage and hide this sweet ingredient in nearly everything for guaranteed customers. The problem for them is that word is starting to spread about sugar being terrible for our health so these food companies got even smarter by hiding sugar under different names. In fact, the majority of food manufacturers will use 3-4 different types of sugars so they are spread out on the ingredient list and hopefully consumers will assume it’s much lower in sugar than it really is. There are nearly 100 different names for sugar and sugar products. This means as customers, we need to become smarter shoppers to look for hidden sugars. Tip: Any ingredient ending in “-ose” (glucose, fructose, lactose, maltose, and so on) are sugars.
No doubt sugar takes the cake for being detrimental to our health. Diets high in added sugar consumption are linked to diseases such as obesity, type II diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), and even certain cancers since cancer cells feed on sugar.
With so many names it can get confusing, so here’s a list of some of the common foods that are often loaded with hidden sugars:
- Cereal, Cereal bars, Instant Oatmeal, and Granola- On average, a bowl of cereal and milk contains about 20-30g of sugar. The recommended amount for women is 24g of sugar A DAY. That’s breakfast and already over the recommended threshold. Skip the cereal and choose a better breakfast. Cereal bars are also known to have a lot of added sugar. However, If you love cereal it’s better to choose ones with a higher fiber content to slow carbohydrate absorption, add some berries to it. Many prepackaged oatmeal meals have added sugars so choose raw oats instead and sweeten with fruit and honey.
- Yogurts– Many yogurts have added sugars, especially the ones with those yummy candy pieces. Pass and opt for plain Greek yogurt and add your own toppings like fresh fruit and coconut flakes.
- Ketchup– One of the worst offenders for hidden sugar. Many ketchup brands contain high fructose corn syrup. Look for Organic natural ketchup or No Added Sugar options.
- Sauces like BBQ and red pasta sauce- Sauces tend to be so good due to the sugar and salt content. It adds flavor, but also excess sugar. Better options for organic natural low sugar or no added sugars.
- Milk-Especially flavored like chocolate or strawberry has tons of sugar. Regular milk contains Lactose, a natural sugar. During processing, more sugars and flavors are usually added.
- Bread– Most bread and other flour products are made from refined flour. When ingested these spike blood sugar levels. Even though bread isn’t necessarily sweet, it can raise blood glucose levels as much as a chocolate bar. Look for whole grain options instead of white bread
- Protein bars and pre-made shakes– Protein bars that look more like snickers should be in the candy aisle. They are packed with sugar and a side of protein. That defeats the purpose if you ask me. Anything that’s disguised as a “healthy brownie or cookie dough bar” is not healthy. Even many protein powders contain hidden sugars. Although it’s a convenient way to reach your protein goals, it’s best to look for options that don’t have added sugars.
- Dried Fruit & Some Mixed Nuts packs– Surprisingly dried fruit is considered healthier than fresh fruit due to a more concentrated dose of vitamins and minerals like antioxidants and fiber. However, many manufacturers add sugar to their dried fruits. Look for ones without any added sugars. Watch out for nuts that are honey-roasted since they are often coated with sugar & salt. Look for raw or dry roasted nuts over oil. The cooking process actually destroys much of the nutrients in nuts.
- Salad Dressings– Salad dressings are notorious for taking a bowl of healthy greens and turning them into a sugar-spiking meal. Many of the creamy dressings have extra fat and sugar. Olive oil and vinegar are much healthier than thousand island or ranch. Organic options also tend to be much lower in sugar content.
- Rice Cakes– The rice is essentially stripped of its fiber making the rice get absorbed rapidly in the blood spiking glucose and insulin levels, contributing to weight gain. So while they are tasty and can be a healthy snack they should probably not be part of your weight loss plan.
Many of these foods I consider “toppers” like ketchup, BBQ sauce, and salad dressing. We top our food off with these items, essentially covering any ounce of what may have been a healthy meal with a sugary sauce. Many common breakfast items like bread, pastries, cereals, and prepackaged oatmeal are loaded with added sugars. Ingesting these foods early in the morning spikes blood sugar levels before the inevitable crash. Maybe it’s not the mid-morning caffeine crash we all get, but rather coming down from the sugar high we didn’t even know we had.
Processing sugar all the time is taxing on your digestive system, especially for the liver, causing it to make excess cholesterol. Reducing your sugar intake can help manage weight and more importantly, reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease. So next time you’re at the grocery store, look and see where you can start cutting sugar out. If you want to know more about diseases linked to sugar check out: 5 Foods to Improve Your Cholesterol and Heart Disease: Are you at risk?
Disclaimer: The information in this article is designed for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. This information should not be used to diagnose or treat any health conditions without consulting your healthcare provider. Information used is based on experience and opinion, not 100% evidence. Always consult with a health care practitioner before relying on any information in this article or on this website. Some links in this article may contain affiliate links.