Sugar is sneaky. It’s always looking for ways to creep into favorite foods — without you even noticing. If you don’t pay close attention to the foods you are eating you can end up with too much added sugar in your diet, potentially leading to complications like weight gain, diabetes, and other health problems.
Understanding the difference between natural and added sugar is a great place to start. Certain nutritious foods, like fruit, milk, yogurt, and starchy vegetables, contain naturally occurring sugars. Any sugars listed on the nutrition facts label in a food that does not naturally contain sugar, would be considered an added sugar. Companies rarely advertise the added sugar in a food, so you have to keep your eye out for trigger words in the ingredients list. Corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, invert sugar, lactose, nectar, and malt syrup are all other names for added sugar.
One of the sneakiest names for added sugar is fruit concentrate. From fruit snacks to whole grain cereals to baby food pouches, you will regularly find it listed in the ingredients label. Other times, fruit concentrate is advertised on the front packaging as a way to draw the consumer to its potential health benefits. While it is derived from fresh fruit, many of the beneficial nutrients are lost during processing. First fiber is removed. Secondly, the fruit is heated to remove water, which also destroys heat-sensitive vitamin C. Sugar and calories are the primary nutrients that remain after processing.
If you don’t want to read labels that closely, you can still limit sugars in your diet by cutting out certain foods and beverages. Sugary drinks like sodas, energy drinks, and sweet coffee beverages are common sources of added sugar. Sugary cereals, candy, and baked goods tend to contribute large amounts of added sugar to our diets, as well. Start with one item that you consume regularly and either reduce or eliminate your intake.
There are other less obvious foods to look out for. Condiments like barbecue sauce and ketchup have a surprising amount of added sugar. Items like granola, granola bars, bread, and flavored instant oatmeal do, too.
Another great way to reduce added sugar in your diet is by cooking at home. If you are creating a food from scratch you can limit how much sugar is added to it. Take oatmeal, for instance. Instead of going for the packaged, flavored version, buy plain rolled oats and doctor them up with fresh fruit, raisins, cinnamon, and a small handful of nuts.
Sugar is a tasty part of the diet and does not need to be completely eliminated. By becoming more aware of where added sugar often hides, you can make more intentional choices about where in your diet you choose to include sweet treats.