Unexpected Sources of Sugar and How to Avoid Them

We’re always telling our clients the importance of moderating their sugar intake. One of the easiest ways to do that is to be a more conscious consumer and cut out added sugar - sugar that is not naturally occurring in the food you are eating and has been added at some point in its processing or cooking.


Why not cut out all sugar?

Sugar is naturally occurring in many foods including fruit and dairy. Therefore, we don't recommend that everyone across the board cut out all sugar. Not only could you be missing out on important parts of your diet, but it would be exceedingly difficult. We have to remember that not all sugar is created equal. Eating a processed food with high fructose corn syrup added is not the same as eating local blueberries. Of course, in some instances you may want to consider decreasing fruit or dairy intake or timing your fruit intake to prevent insulin spikes but, before getting to that point, we have to target those items that are most likely to have the greatest benefit with minimal effort and that is minimizing added sugar. 


What foods have added sugar?

Of course, you likely already know that added sugar is found in all sorts of desserts from cookies to ice cream to cake. But you may be surprised to learn all of the unexpected sources of added sugar potentially in your diet including tomato sauce, salad dressings, barbecue sauce, coleslaw, fruit jams, smoothies, granola bars, yogurt, instant oatmeal, packaged fruits, and more. Remember, we aren’t considering naturally occurring sugars here just sugar added to these products.

Based on UCSF estimates, added sugar is present in 74% of packaged food sold in super markets!


How do I avoid these added sugars?

As may have guessed, avoiding added sugars is as easy as simply eating real foods. For example, instead of buying peaches in a jar eat a fresh peach. Avoiding these processed foods will have the two-fold advantage of not only minimizing the added sugar in your diet, but also helping you avoid the generally less healthy foods that are packaged and processed. These foods typically include many synthetic ingredients and preservatives, which may contribute to weight gain, inflammation, and all of their resulting complications.


What if I can't always eat real foods?

We try to live in the real world and not some dream world where we’re all perfect. Therefore, we recognize that most people (including us) are not going to be able to live their entire lives eating zero packaged or processed foods. When you do decide to eat packaged or processed foods you just need to be conscious of and better understand the choices you’re making.

The first and most important concept you must understand is that sugar is not always labeled clearly. I guarantee no brand is going to write on their packaging "New and Improved Formulation with 20% More Added Sugar!" So you really have to learn to read labels.

Added sugar can have at least 61 different names which includes common names such as sucrose and high fructose corn syrup, but also less common names such as barley malt, dextrose, maltose, and rice syrup. For a handy downloadable cheat sheet click here!

One additional wrinkle to this is that manufacturers do not have to say how much added sugar vs. naturally occurring sugar is in the product - they only have to list the whole sugar content. One trick to determining how much added sugar is in a product is to look at the ordering of ingredients in the nutrition information. Ingredients are listed in descending order of predominance by weight - the further down the ingredient list the less of that ingredient in the product. 

What About That Naturally Occurring Sugar?

As many people like to say, "Natural does not always mean healthy." Of course that is true. In a future article we will talk more more about this and whether all added sugar is created equal. We will discuss different products such as organic cane sugar, xylitol, honey, stevia, maple syrup, saccharin (and other sugar substitutes). Also, if you are struggling with sugar cravings, be sure to read this article.

Moving Forward

Use these tools to be a more conscious consumer. If you would like more personalized advice on how to cut the "right" sugar from your life and to what extent you need to decrease your sugar intake to reach your health goals, schedule your free initial consult now!

Kelly Fox