What’s really hiding in your food? The hidden sugar game
Sugar is big business and food companies hide it in foods under many names.
If you are looking to eat cleaner, healthier foods, you may be surprised at what is hidden inside packaged health foods. Sugar has many aliases and hides in junk food and health food alike. Be an informed consumer who knows how to spot hidden sugar.
I recently saw a 5.3 ounce yogurt which had 22 grams of sugar in it! Your average 12 ounce soda has about 40 grams of sugar. Comparing the two and considering grams of sugar per ounce of product, the yogurt is surprisingly the worse choice. This is a fairly common trend with sugar that is hidden in foods. You may think you are choosing the better breakfast food with the yogurt but the devil is in the details. Reading labels is a crucial skill in today’s grocery jungles. Assessing the protein and fat content, amount of sugar and source of sugar make some yogurts a solid choice and some a disaster.
There are many different hidden sugar names.
What is even more difficult is when we think we are reaching for a healthy food and it is jam-packed with added sugars. Some of the common surprising sources of excess sugars include: pasta sauce, granola bars, energy drinks, salad dressing, yogurt, instant oatmeal, packaged fruits and breakfast cereals. The even trickier part of decoding nutritional labels is the fact that there are literally dozens of names that sugar may be hidden under! These range from “ethyl maltol” to “panela” to “molasses” to “oat syrup” to “corn sweetener” or “glucose” and the list goes on and on. Georgetown University published a list of 65 alternative names for sugar that can be found here.
The following list comes from healthline and gives you a cheat sheet of alternative sugar names.
Forms of dry sugar
Cane juice crystals
Dextran, malt powder
Fruit juice concentrate
Organic raw sugar
Evaporated cane juice
Confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
Forms of syrup
High-fructose corn syrup
Rice bran syrup
Of course anyone who is on a health journey has seen the real challenge of how to interpret “health foods.” Companies get a lot of leeway to label products “natural” “all-natural” or “healthy.” Let’s not forget that arsenic is technically “natural” because it occurs in nature but that does not mean I want it in my food. There are a few things to watch for with health foods:
1. Certain added sugars are commonly labeled as healthy.
2. The low-fat food craze generally meant that sugar replaced fat to keep foods tasty.
3. Food labels may claim there are no added refined sugars.
I have an entire article dedicated to the special harms of high fructose corn syrup coming out on June 10th but all sugar impacts the body. “Refined sugar” usually just refers to white cane sugar or the myriad other forms of processed sugars. However, these alternatives still turn into sugar in your body. They may provide a small amount of micronutrients or have a lower glycemic index which means they break down more slowly in the gut, but do not forget they are still sugar. If you are trying to eat fewer processed foods, be sure to keep an eye out for these hidden sugars.
- Agave syrup
- Birch syrup
- Coconut sugar
- Maple syrup
- Raw sugar
- Cane sugar
- Sugar beet syrup
The body does not care where it came from, it just loves sugar. You’ve got to use your will power and ability to plan and reason to defeat such a tricky foe. With the above information you can also be better equipped to decode nutritional labels. I am personally glad that the FDA has finally included “added sugars” as part of the nutritional label. This is another key item to pay attention to as it gives you a sense of if you are consuming sugars that were naturally part of that food or not. To understand the extent of this issue, according to the CDC – in 2017-2018 the average American adult consumed 17 tsp of sugar per day which adds up to about 57 pounds in a year.
Remember: not all sugar is equal. Naturally occurring sugar in fruit also carries fiber, antioxidants and vitamins. The fiber is crucial as it slows the transit of food in the GI tract and slows absorption of the sugars. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant and protective to the cardiovascular system. When we consume fruit juice, we extract all the sweetness and lose all that beneficial fiber. To be a conscientious consumer, you must take the time to really understand what you are putting in your body and try to make the best possible choices.