"Healthy" Foods That are Surprisingly High in Sugar
Added sugars can hide in some surprising places, including many of the foods we label as "healthy". Below are some common culprits to avoid or limit, that likely contain more sugar than you think, along with some suggestions for healthier low-sugar options.
Granola is often seen as a healthy breakfast food or snack, however, be careful, some granolas can contain just as much or even more sugar than an unhealthy breakfast cereal, containing up to 7 teaspoons of sugar per serving! If you enjoy granola, try making your own with basic ingredients including oats, nut butter, honey or maple syrup, nuts and seeds. This Peanut Butter Granola is one of my favourites.
Low fat and flavoured yogurts
Yogurt can be a very healthy and nutritious breakfast or snack option, however, not all yogurts are the same. Low fat yogurts have sugars added to them to make up for the flavour loss of removing some of the fat, and therefore, do not have the same health benefits as full fat yogurt. Fat also contributes to feelings of fullness and satiety, ensuring your snack will carry you through to your next meal. One 1/2 cup serving of low fat yogurt can contain over 20g of sugar, therefore, instead try to select full fat, natural, or Greek yogurt options with no added sugars.
Tomato sauce isn't often considered sweet, but you might be surprised how much added sugar can be hiding in a jar of your favourite spaghetti sauce. Always check the ingredient list, and look for one that does not have sugar on the list. This is one of my favourite no sugar added tomato sauces that I always stock up on at Costo, and I also love this spicier one from Loblaws. Of course, all tomato sauces are going to have some sugar due to the naturally occurring sugars in tomatoes. But, one of the best ways to ensure you aren't getting any added sugars in your tomato sauce is to make your own, using simple basic ingredients including tomatoes, onions, olive oil, herbs and spices.
Don't make the mistake of thinking that a sports drink is a healthy choice when you exercise. Sports drinks typically contain high amounts of sugars (up to 10 teaspoons!) designed to be used as a quick source of energy for high performance athletes during intense training sessions. They are not intended for the average person during a moderate workout session. Instead, stick to water, or even make your own electrolyte drink using 2 cups of water, 1 tsp lemon juice, 1 tsp honey, and a pinch of salt.
Many breakfast cereals, particularly those marketed towards children, are very high in sugar. But, even those claiming to be healthier can contain up to 12g or more of added sugars. Always read the nutrition label and ingredient list, and try to select a cereal with less than 8g of sugar per serving (opt for ones sweetened with honey, maple syrup, dried fruits), 8g or more of protein, and 5g or more of fibre. Eating more protein and fibre at breakfast will help keep you fuller longer and can contribute to weight loss.
Pre-made or store-bought smoothies
Smoothies can be a very healthy breakfast or snack, especially, if you make them yourself and are using whole food ingredients. However, some pre-made or store-bought smoothies can sabotage your good intentions of enjoying something healthy. Many commercially made smoothies are very high in sugar as they can be sweetened with fruit juices, ice cream, frozen yogurt, and/or syrups. They can also be very high in calories as they often come in larger sizes than you would make for yourself at home. So, if you are buying a smoothie, instead of making it yourself, make sure to read the ingredients and be aware of the portion size.
Protein bars are a popular, quick, easy snack that are not always as healthy as their name may imply. Many contain more than 20g of added sugar (similar to a chocolate bar!). So, when selecting a protein bar, read the nutrient label and ingredient list, and avoid those that are high in sugar (> 8g), and stick to those with minimal ingredients, and that are high in protein (> 10g) and fibre (> 5g). Some of my favourites include Simply Protein, RX Bars, Genuine Health, and Made With Local Bars.
We don't always associate soup with sugar or something sweet, but many store-bought soups have numerous added ingredients, including sugars often labelled as sucrose, barley, maltose, dextrose or high fructose corn syrup. Vegetables in soups contain naturally occurring sugars, which are fine in moderate amounts, and the vegetables add many beneficial nutrients. Look for soups made with whole food ingredients, herbs and spices, and healthy oils, or make your own to ensure you know exactly what is going in it.
Dried fruit sounds like a healthy snack, however, most store-bought brands contain a lot of added sugar in addition to the the fruit's naturally occurring sugars. Added sugars tend to be the highest in dried fruits that are naturally tart, such as cranberries. To avoid these added sugars, look for options that only list fruit in the ingredient list.
Ketchups and barbeque sauces
These popular condiments can be loaded with added sugars. A single tablespoon of ketchup or barbeque sauce contains about 1 teaspoon of sugar. But, when do you ever use just one tablespoon? Whether you're adding these condiments to a burger, fries, or chicken wings, you are likely consuming at least a few teaspoons of sugar per meal. Instead, try ketchups and barbeque sauces with very little or no added sugars, including my favourites from Good Food For Good.