5 Hidden Sources of Sugar

brown sugar cubes

Although the largest threat to our health over the past 40 years has been believed to be saturated fat, increasing amounts of research are pointing to the fact that it is in fact sugar that may be one of the greatest contributors to the obesity epidemic. We have been eating low-fat products or decades now, but despite the fact that people have cut most of the saturated fat from their diets, rates of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes have continued to skyrocket; certainly if it was fat was the problem, these rates should have dropped significantly. One thing we have not reduced our consumption of is sugar.

According to research by Dr. Stephan Guyenet, it took the typical American 5 days in 1822 to eat the amount of sugar that is consumed in a single can of soda today. It is estimated that we currently eat the same amount of sugar every 7 hours. The average American annually consumes more than 100 pounds of added sugar, which is the equivalent of about 22 teaspoons per day. The problem is that it’s difficult to avoid. Many foods that you would not normally believe had any type of sweetener added are actually high in sugar.

Common Foods with Hidden Sugar

Bread – Although you would understandably not consider that there was just as much sugar in the bread of that pastrami sandwich you are eating as there is in a donut, it is unfortunately all too frequently the case. “Whole wheat bread” is of particular concern, as it is often the bread highest in hidden sugar. The glycemic index, which measures the amount of sugar that foods metabolize down to, lists whole grain bread at 72, in comparison with a Snickers bar, which is only at 41 on the glycemic index! You may as well be eating a piece of chocolate cake! 

Fruit juices – Fruit juices often consist of nothing more than fruit-flavored sugar water. Make sure that the juice you buy says it is “100% fruit juice.” The more fiber that remains in a juice, the more slowly the sugars will be absorbed into your bloodstream. Ideally, make your own juice from fresh fruit using a juicer.

Jams and jellies –Some companies try to disguise the fact that their product is primarily sugar by using a number of different sugars in their product. This enables them to list fruit first on the ingredient list, followed by a number of different sugars in smaller amounts. People know that the first ingredient listed is the most plentiful in a food, so even though the total amount of sugars can be significantly more than the fruit, the fruit appears on the label as being the most plentiful.

Instant oatmeal – Eating steel-cut oatmeal is a great way to lower cholesterol and is listed at 52 on the low-glycemic food list. However, instant oatmeal is completely different because unlike steel-cut oats, they release their sugars more quickly into the bloodstream, causing blood sugar to surge.

Quaker’s “Oatmeal to Go” is one of the worst offenders. It is advertised as being the portable equivalent of a healthy bowl of oatmeal, but at 19 grams of three different kinds of sugar, along with a long list of additives and preservatives, it is far from healthy!

Spaghetti sauce – If you read the label on a typical jar of pasta sauce, you will notice that sugar (or even corn syrup) is frequently listed as the second ingredient. The only reason why sugar needs to be added to spaghetti sauce is if the ingredients are of lower quality. Some chefs add just a pinch of sugar to tomato sauce to reduce their acidity, but that is only in very small amounts. Instead, buy a can of crushed tomatoes and/or tomato puree to make your own easy and healthy pasta sauce. Simply sautée an onion with a couple of cloves of chopped garlic, then add the canned or pureed tomatoes, along with some oregano and thyme. You can even add some lightly sautéed mushrooms, zucchini, or a little ground beef if you want a more hearty sauce. Voila! Sugar-free pasta sauce in minutes.

How to Avoid Added Sugars

Read the food label when shopping and look for sugar derivatives. Any ingredient on a food label that ends in “ose” or “tol” is derived from sugar. For example:

  • dextrose
  • fructose
  • lactose
  • galactose
  • polydextrose
  • mannitol
  • xylitol
  • sorbitol

Other sugars include:

  • corn syrup
  • high-fructose corn syrup
  • dextran
  • ethyl maltol
  • diastatic malt
  • panocha
  • sorghum syrup

The healthiest choice is usually the product that has the fewest ingredients, and where sugar is farthest from the top.

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