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Sugar Shock: Sugar Lurks in Surprising Places

Published: Jan 29, 2016

By Lisa Greene


It turns out that saying no to the cupcake may be the easy part.

The new federal Dietary Guidelines urge Americans to cut back on sugar.   That means fewer cupcakes – and cookies, cake, and soda.

Infographic titled "Where's the sugar hiding?" with the sugar content of common foods including ketchup (4 grams), dried fruit (29 grams), salad dressing (7 grams), tomato sauce (12 grams) and barbecue sauce (9 grams)

But at least we know those things are loaded with sugar.

“You don’t always think of tomato sauce as sweet,” said Jessica Hurst, a registered dietician and certified diabetes educator at Tampa General Hospital. “But sugar is added to cut the acidic taste and extend the shelf life.”

Sugar can often be found even in processed foods that people think of as healthy, Hurst said.

“People think of granola bars as a healthy alternative, but a typical granola bar has 9 grams of sugar,” Hurst said. “A real healthy alternative is to have fruit and nuts.”

These hidden sugars can add up fast. The new guidelines recommend getting less than 10 percent of your calories from sugar. In a 2,000-calorie per day diet, that means 50 grams of sugar or less.

Hurst advises being especially cautious about sneaky sugar in these areas:

  • Processed fruit – Fruit seems healthy, but 1/3 cup of dried cranberries can have 26 grams of sugar. And yogurt with fruit on the bottom is about 19 grams per serving.
  • Reduced fat – When food companies cut back on fat, they may make a food taste better by adding more sugar. That fat-free raspberry vinaigrette salad dressing that seems healthy actually has as much as 7 grams of sugar in a 2 tablespoon serving.
  • Portion size – It doesn’t sound so bad that ketchup has 4 grams of sugar per serving – until you consider that one serving is a tablespoon. When's the last time you saw anyone squirt just a tablespoon on anything?
  • Sugary beverages – Just because it’s not soda doesn’t mean it’s healthy. A 16-ounce bottle of apple juice has 49 grams of sugar – enough for a whole day in one drink. Bottled ice teas are also loaded with sugar, Hurst said.

Check food labels for sugar under different names, Hurst said. High fructose corn syrup, cane juice, date juice, and any ingredient ending in “ose” is a sugar. Agave nectar and honey may sound healthier, but they’re still sugar.

How to avoid all those sugars? Try to avoid processed food. Buy plain yogurt and add fresh fruit yourself. Drink water instead of sweetened beverages. Choose oil and vinegar instead of bottled vinaigrette, or add fresh tomatoes to your pasta instead of opening a jar of sauce.

Infographic by Daniel Wallace, TGH Health News.