Sugar's favorite hiding spots: 9 really sweet ways to send added sugar packing

Posted at 7:31 PM, Jul 11, 2014
and last updated 2016-08-24 13:00:31-04

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently announced that the amount of sugar we consume each day should sit right about at 5 percent of our daily calories.

"Not only is our collective saber-sized sweet tooth contributing to skyrocketing rates of obesity and diabetes, not to mention busy dentists, but it’s also causing coronary woes," Matthew Kadey of Oxygen Magazine said.

When it comes to heart disease, people who took in about 20 percent of their calories from added sugar were 38 percent more likely to die from heart disease than those who ate less than 10 percent, Kadey reports.

When strolling the aisles in your local supermarket, steering clear of added sugar is no easy task. When's the last time you checked the labels of your favorite condiments, yogurt and snacks?

University of North Carolina researchers, Kadey says, found that 75 percent of all packaged foods contain added sweeteners.

Some foods are obviously high in sugar - cookies, sodas and juice, but knowing where sweet spots hide can be tricky. Below are some of sugar's favorite hiding spots, and easy ways to send that added sugar packing.

Whole grain bread

"The staff of life has now become a sneaky sugar smuggler," Kadey says. "Many national brands of bread include an ingredient list that places sugar as one of the predominant ingredients."

A sandwich combining two slices of bread can contain about 10 grams of sugar - 40 percent of what WHO recommends.

After finding sugar hidden in bread, resort to your local bread shop for better bread, which contains simple ingredients of flour, water, yeast and a touch of salt. If bread contains words you can't pronounce - like azodicarbonamide - leave it on the shelf.

Local recommendation: Breadsmith in Hyde Park

Reduced-fat peanut butter

Sure, there's about 30 percent less fat than regular PB, but slicing fat means sliding in extra sugar and sodium. In the end, the calorie count between regular and reduced-fat isn't enough to consider.

So go with the regular PB. The fat isn't as scary as added sugars found in reduced-fat, because it's monounsaturated fat - the kind that's good for your heart. Better yet, try the organic, all natural, non-GMO route - nut butter.

Local recommendation: Once Again Nut Butter, found at Whole Foods in Rookwood Commons and in Mason

Salad dressings

Salad dressings work about the same way peanut butter does when it comes to opting for the healthiest option. Cutting fat means adding sugar to make up for the flavor lost when reducing the fat. In order to keep the taste, sweeteners and salt hop on board, which can add about 10 grams of sugar per serving.

Get creative and put your chef's hat on to make the healthiest salad dressing. Kadey suggests whipping up a mix of olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, garlic and salt and pepper.

Local recommendation - The Spicy Olive in Hyde Park and West Chester

Granola bars

The next time you reach for an oh-so-convenient granola bar, think again. Within that wrapper and gooey nut concoction lies quite a few calories and hidden sugar that come in granola goods like sugar-sweetened dried fruits, evaporated cane juice or brown rice syrup. About a fourth of a cup of granola can contain about 10 grams of sugar.

A go-to besides granola is oatmeal. It's smoother in texture, so if you miss the crunch of granola, add raw almonds, pistachios, walnuts or hazelnuts to the mix. If you'd rather stick to granola, choose one that contains ingredients like sprouted organic buckwheat groats, sprouted organic flax seeds, organic raisins and organic dates.

Local recommendation: GoRaw Live Granola, found at Olympia Health Foods in Kettering

Greek yogurt

When you choose Greek yogurt over regular yogurt, it may be to make a healthier selection. But beware, sugar finds hiding places in the Greek stuff, too. In fact, it gets worse when the yogurt is flavored with blueberries, strawberries and even vanilla. Even though some brands contain "real" fruit, the berries are soaked in sweeteners. The sugar found in plain yogurt, Kadey says, "hails from the naturally present lactose in dairy."

Step one to step away from yogurt's hidden sugar is to snack on plain Greek yogurt that contains the simplest ingredients like milk and active bacteria. Instead of buying flavored yogurt, DIY with fresh, organic fruit.

Local recommendation: Find fresh fruit at the Tri-State's many farmers markets

Pasta Sauce

Worrying about the carbs in pasta is so last year. Trendsetters have already switched to squash noodles, bean pasta, soba buckwheat noodles, ancient grains pasta and sprouted grains pasta, but nowadays the secret's in the sauce. Sugar hides in tomato sauces, sending each serving of some brands up to 15 grams. There's enough natural sugar in tomato puree, so there's no point in adding more for a tangy taste.

It's worth an extra minute or two to look at the list of ingredients in pasta sauces. Your best bet is to buy a sauce with the shortest list, and to look for San Marzano tomatoes. They grow in Italy's rich volcanic soil, are naturally sweet and low in acid, and contain cancer-fighting properties.

Local recommendation: Cento San Marzano tomatoes found at any Kroger or Remke

Energy bars

Energy bars may give you and extra boost, but the sugar lurking in them is enough sugar to make some candy bars blush, Kadey says. So while you think you're getting a quick breakfast on the go, you're really putting away a bag of M&M's or Skittles. Some of the worst energy bar culprits keep up to 30 grams of sugar in their shadows!

A simple comparison is key to choosing the healthiest energy bar - keep the protein-to-sugar ratio of at least 2-to-1. If you can find a bar that's high in protein, you'll get an extra boost of power in that one, simple snack.

Local recommendation: Strong & Kind Protein Bars, found at Speedway convenience stores and GNC

Frozen Pizza

Sometimes popping a frozen pizza into the oven can be a simple dinner, maybe even your cheat meal, but the ease of the pie preparation means sugar can seep into each and every layer. With sugar hiding in the crust, sauce and meat toppings, each slice of a frozen pie can contain 5 grams of sugar. And it's not like we stop at one slice - you do the math.

The best pizza is homemade in your kitchen, as your simple crust, San Marzano sauce, organic meats and fresh vegetables come together to give you the pie with the least sugar. For frozen options, if you must, choose a pie from the grocer's freezer that's thin crust, and check the nutrition label for sugar count.

Local recommendation: American Flatbread Tomato Sauce and Three Cheese, found at Whole Foods in Rookwood Commons and in Mason

Almond milk

More and more folks are buying dairy-free milk, as word of its health benefits is gaining ground, and fast. But it's no safe route for staying away from sugar. One cup of vanilla almond milk holds up to 16 grams of sugar, which can be in the form of sweeteners like cane sugar.

The next time you pick up almond milk, make sure its label says it's unsweetened, rather than original. The original almond milk will likely have added sugar.

Local recommendation: So Delicious Almond Plus 5X, found at Kroger

Sugar in disguise - an easy way to check your foods for hidden sugars is to know what to look for. Below are a list of hidden sugars to stay away from because in the end, sugar is sugar, no matter what you call it.

  • Agave
  • Barley Malt
  • Brown Rice Syrup
  • Cane Sugar
  • Corn Syrup
  • Date Sugar
  • Dextrose
  • Evaporated Cane Juice
  • Fruit Juice Concentrate
  • Fructose
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Honey
  • Maltodextrin
  • Maltose
  • Molasses
  • Sucrose
  • Sorghum Syrup