The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams) of sugar per day and men no more than 9 teaspoons (38 grams). Yet many people consume as many as 20 teaspoons of sugar each day without even realizing it. How? Sugar is often hidden in foods that might otherwise be considered healthy. Some sugar is naturally occurring, but many products add sugar to already sweet items to boost flavor.
Milk contains sugar known as lactose. Lactose is a common form of sugar intolerance and should be avoided by those that are lactose intolerant. Even if you’re not lactose intolerant, if you want to avoid sugar to cut calories, then you can find other sources of calcium in dark leafy vegetables, like spinach, which contains fewer calories and no sugar. Another dairy product with a lot of sugar is yogurt. Because it is made from milk, yogurt contains some sugar naturally. But when it is flavored or made with fruit, manufacturers add additional sugar to the mix, even though both yogurt and fruit already contain sugar.
Another common place to find sugar is in energy and protein bars. Read the nutrition label and you might find that the amount of sugar is actually higher than the amount of protein in many cases. Despite being marketed for health, many popular energy bars actually pack as much sugar as candy bars. Granola bars are even worse because they contain very little nutrition and high amounts of sugar, especially those that include candy, chocolate, or other treats. As many as 9 grams of sugar may be hidden in your granola bar.
Although healthy and high in nutrients and fiber, many fruits contain high levels of sugar and should be avoided in excess. You can have your fruit and enjoy it, but try choosing fruits that contain lower levels of sugar. For example, slightly under-ripe bananas contain less sugar than overripe bananas. And tangy Granny Smith apples contain less sugar than Red Delicious apples.
Barbecue sauce, especially the bottled kinds, contains high amounts of sugar. To combat the spiciness of seasonings and the tanginess of vinegar, many barbecue sauce brands add corn syrup or another sweetener to the mix. Other bottled sauces also contain added sugar, including tomato sauce. Corn syrup, sugar, and other sweeteners are often added in hefty amounts to bottled tomato sauce to counterbalance the acidity of tomatoes.
Another item to pay attention to is salad dressing. Sugars are often added to low-fat and fat-free salad dressings to combat the lack of flavor caused by the lack of fat. It is usually best to make your own salad dressing and avoid the bottled versions, which contain added sugar as well as other preservatives to make them shelf-stable.
To avoid hidden sugar, start reading labels carefully. If sugar is listed in the first several ingredients, avoid it.