So, you’ve made it your mission to follow a healthier lifestyle. You’ve been exercising more, cutting out the fats, limiting your salt intake and staying away from the sweets. All good? Not so. Even if you don’t have a sweet tooth, you might still be eating far more sugar than you think. Sugar comes in many different guises and much of it is hidden in your favourite foods.
Manufacturers often add different kinds of sugars during the canning or packaging process, which adds more kilojoules to the food without any nutritional value. Like salt, sugar can also be used as a preservative to extend shelf life.
Read the ingredient list of your favourite convenience food. There’s a good chance that it includes sugar. The best-known sugars are fructose (“fruit sugar”) and sucrose (“table sugar”). But they are also often listed by another name: honey, dextrose, fructose, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, sorbitol, fruit juice concentrate, galactose, lactose, polydextrose, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, maltodextrin and turbinado sugar.
If one teaspoon of sugar equals four grams, this means your total sugar intake per day should be no more than 12 teaspoons of sugar. This may sound generous enough, but if you think that one can of soda alone already equals 40 grams (or 10 teaspoons of sugar) or one cup of your favourite cereal could contain up to 20 grams (or 5 teaspoons of sugar), you don’t really have much to work with.
Have a look at our list of top 10 foods with hidden sugar to learn how you can cut your sugar intake and live a healthier life today.
Sugar is often added to tomato products to counter their acidity. This is especially true when tomatoes are picked too early. Everyone’s favourite condiment, tomato sauce is one of the greatest culprits when it comes to hidden sugar. According to figures from the United States Department of Agriculture, up to one-third of the content of tomato sauce can be sugar. A popular SA brand of tomato sauce contains 27g of sugar per 100g. We all love a generous dollop of tomato sauce with our favourite snacks, but next time you grab the bottle, keep in mind that a tablespoon of tomato sauce equals one teaspoon of sugar.
There’s nothing better than a slice of toast with peanut butter. One of the reasons it’s so delicious is the high amount of added sugar. The sugar content various by brand, so it’s a good idea to compare labels. The sugar content is mostly listed under carbohydrates (“of which sugars”) and listed in grams. Divide the number of grams by four to calculate the teaspoons of sugar per portion.
You’d be surprised to find how much sugar ready-made salad dressings contain. The biggest culprits are the low-fat versions – the manufacturers remove the fat of the salad dressing but add extra sugar and salt to improve the taste. The healthiest option is still to make your own salad dressing by using a small amount of olive oil, fresh lemon juice or Balsamic vinegar and adding some fresh herbs.
Like canned vegetables, most canned soups have added sugar to extend their shelf life – some brands can contain several teaspoons of sugar per serving. Read the labels of canned soups before you put them into your grocery basket or better yet, cook your own vegetable soup at home.
No surprises that fast food makes the list! Fast foods have too much of everything: salt, fats, empty kilojoules and sugar. Most people know that fast food is not good for you, but even if you stay away from sweet sodas, milkshakes and desserts, the hamburgers, fries and, even the salads, could all contain some form of hidden sugar. If you can’t stay away from fast food, check out the ingredients very carefully to make smarter choices and try to keep your intake to the minimum. Fast foods are of little nutritional value to you, and it’s best to stock up on real wholesome foods.
Many brands of canned vegetables contain hidden sugars that are used during the manufacturing process to make their shelf life longer. Have a look at the ingredient list to see whether any sugar has been added and, if you must have sweetened veggies, choose a brand with the lowest sugar content. The best option is still to cook fresh vegetables and add a sprinkling of sugar at the end to satisfy your tastebuds.
Have a look at the ingredient list of your favourite breakfast cereal. Most breakfast cereals are loaded with sugar to make it more palatable. The classic cornflakes contain about 5 to 7g of sugar per 100g, meaning a 50g portion will contain half to one teaspoon of sugar. The “healthier” high-fibre, all bran flakes contain up to 11g of sugar per 100g or around one and a half teaspoons of sugar.
The sweeter flavoured cereals that kids (and many adults) love so much contain up to 34g of sugar per 100g. That’s a whopping four teaspoons of sugar per 50g portion! Add to that the extra sugar that we sprinkle on our cereal, and you’ve got enough sugar to put you on a high all morning long.
If you think that “health” and granola bars are a good choice for breakfast or snacking during the day, think again. Most of these bars are loaded with sugar. They may contain healthy fibre, nuts and raisins, but they also contain many different types of sugar. The low-fat health bars are the worst offenders, with some of them containing up to 3 teaspoons of sugar per 30 gram bar. For a healthy snack, rather eat fruit, a piece of cheese or a handful of nuts and raisins.