Keep an eye out for added sugar

May 04, 2012 By Mark Garavel, MS, R.D.

There have been lots of studies in recent years about the dangers of added sugar in drinks, which can increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other health conditions.

Giving up sugared soft drinks and energy drinks is a great step toward reducing your sugar intake, but you should also look at what you're eating. Some foods that we should consume every day – like fruit – contain natural sugar, but they also have other vital nutrients. Many processed foods, however, contain added sugars – often in the forms of table and brown sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. These provide calories without the beneficial nutrients.

You know if you eat candy or cookies you're consuming added sugar, but it can hide in some unexpected places. Here are some places you might be surprised to find added sugar, and some ways to avoid it:

• Granola and other cereal bars. The labels might say “low fat” or “whole grains”, but look carefully at the other side of the box. Some cereal bars contain 12 or more grams of sugar.
• Instant oatmeal and “healthy” cereals. Even some of the high-fiber, whole-grain cereals that look healthy can contain grams of sugar in the double-digits. Buy plain oatmeal or low-sugar cereals and sweeten them with a banana or other fruit.
• Sauces and condiments. Jarred spaghetti sauce, barbecue sauce and even salad dressing can contain surprising amounts of added sugar. The solution? Make your own. It'll taste better and you can get creative with herbs and spices.
• Canned fruit. Applesauce or fruit pieces in “light syrup” can contain 15 or more grams of sugar. Some is natural sugar, but many cans or jars of fruit have added sugar unless they say otherwise. Your best bet: Eat the fresh fruit. You'll get less sugar and more nutrients.
• Yogurt. Unless you buy plain yogurt and mix fruit in it yourself, you could be getting 20 or more grams of sugar with each yogurt cup.

The best way to spot hidden sugar is to read labels. Check the grams of sugar listed – 16 grams equals about four teaspoons of granulated sugar. The grams of sugar listed on nutrition labels may include natural sugars, but you can also check the ingredients list for clues. Besides the word “sugar”, “high-fructose corn syrup”, “ molasses”, “maltose”, “sucrose” and “honey” are other words to look for. If these words are among the top three ingredients, a red flag should go up, and you might want to consider an alternative food.

Mark Garavel is manager of Clinical Nutrition at The Hospital of Central Connecticut.