Have you ever tried to quit sugar, only to find out later that it had snuck into your diet when you least suspected it? Big brands do it all the time – marketing packaged foods as “healthy,” “low fat” or suitable for weight loss, only to sneak in a truckload of hidden sugars when you’re not looking.
Often disguised as other fancy or high-tech sounding terms, sugars are often hidden in products under other, more benign-sounding names. Here’s a list of the most common hidden sugars to look out for:
- Dehydrated cane juice
- Corn syrup
- Malt powder or syrup
- Fruit juice concentrate
… and there’s plenty more out there – this is just the tip of the iceberg!
Although it pays to become an avid label-reader (not only to avoid sugar, but other yucky additives and chemicals!), we don’t always have time when we’re doing a quick “grab and go” at the supermarket, usually after a hard day of work, or with kids in tow. Same goes when ordering out at your local café.
So to help you on your mission to be sugar-free (or to just cut down – which is awesome too!), here are the top 10 foods to look out for.
Even though some varieties of conventional flavoured tinned tuna and salmon are marketed as healthy, there can be almost a whole teaspoon of hidden sugars in some small individual-portion tins and sachets. A better option is to buy tinned sustainably-caught fish in plain oil or spring water and add your own herbs, spices, and other flavours.
Without the fibre of the fruit contained in its natural form, the liquid is high in nutrients when cold-pressed and served fresh, but greatly limited when bottled and stored. Some fruit juices are made from reconstituted fruit and concentrates, with water added, and anything described as a ‘fruit drink’ is likely to have sugar added too. A better option is fresh squeezed/pressed veggie juices, with just a green apple or some lemon as your added fruit.
More and more baristas are providing the option of almond or coconut milk for your latte, but when the alternative is the “Unsweetened” version, that leaves the “Original” with added sugars. One cup of some milk-alternatives can contain up to 33g of hidden sugars. Even in-house made almond milks may be sweetened with maple syrup or dates, so it pays to make your own or ask for more info.
Relishes, tomato sauce, barbecue sauce, and jarred pasta sauce are all big culprits when it comes to hidden sugars. Teriyaki sauce, Asian-style stir-fry sauces, and American-style marinades are all high in sugar too. That goes for the tomato sauce that your baked beans come in too (sorry!). Seeing the word “organic” on the label is no guarantee of sugar-free either (organic sugar is still sugar!). It’s relatively easy to make your own sauce using a plain passata, or whole tomatoes, so this might be a better option – then you know exactly what you’re getting.
In one study, a well-known branded can of tomato soup was found to contain 12 grams of added sugar. One can! That’s well over a teaspoon-full for just one serving, and it can add up quickly if the serving size blows out to the whole container. Many pre-packaged soups contain sweeteners including caramel to help colour the broth. Make your own, read the ingredients closely, or buy from a cafe where you can enquire about what’s been added.
Breakfast cereals and muesli or cereal bars can contain high amounts of hidden sugars, even if we stick to the 30g serving size (but studies show we don’t). Half a cup of cereal can contain many teaspoons of sugar, even the health food brands contain honey and dried fruit. For a better option, use plain rolled oats and sweeten with fresh fruit, and add chopped nuts and seeds to boost the nutritional content and fibre for a sustained release. Or in the winter months, try making porridge with quinoa flakes.
The lower a yoghurt is in fat, the higher it is likely to be in sugar or artificial sweeteners, especially the ‘diet’ or ‘lite’ varieties. One small tub of around 200g may contain as many as six teaspoons of sugar from fruit, hidden sugars and sweeteners. For an healthier alternative, choose a plain coconut, Greek or natural yoghurt, which contains live cultures and add your own fresh fruit such as berries.
Muffins and bliss balls
Just because it says it’s low in fat, high in fibre, or organic, doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Many raw treats, bliss balls, and organic muffins can still high in sugar, natural sweeteners such as dates, honey, and maple syrup. Most commercial muffins—even the healthier varieties—contain about eight teaspoons of sugar, which makes them no better then a piece of cake. These should be a “sometimes food” rather than a staple.
Smoothies and shakes
A freshly made smoothie from the local juice bar can contain lots of added sugars from honey, syrups, nut milks, yoghurts, and protein powders, as well as the natural fruit sugars. Even the best protein powders and meal replacement shakes contain lots of added sugars and sweeteners. Stick to veggie juices, or make your smoothies at home with unsweetened almond milk. Or if you get caught out, go for an option at the smoothie bar that doesn’t have yoghurt added.
Want to make your salad instantly unhealthy? Add a commercial dressing – most of them have added sugars. A better option is always going to be a good quality cold-pressed nut or seed oil, with lemon juice or apple cider vinegar to help get those digestive juices flowing. Even store bought vinaigrettes can be very high in sugar, and every serving can add multiple teaspoons to an otherwise nourishing meal.
Going sugar free takes a little vigilance and a little practice. The more you read labels and ask questions, the better you will get at spotting hidden nasties!
And if you need a little guidance to go sugar free, check out my 12 week program here.
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