Added sugar has become a frequent addition to packaged foods. Here’s what to look out for and how to swap foods high in added sugars for healthier alternatives.
Sugar has become a hot topic over the last few years. There are movies and books about sugar. I quit sugar diets and I’ve even seen sugar called ‘white death’.
Types of Sugar
When we talk sugar and food, there are two different types, these are, naturally occurring sugars and added sugars.
Natural occurring sugars refer to sugar that is naturally found in foods like fruit for example. These foods are also usually high in vitamins, minerals and fibre which is good for health.
Added sugars, on the other hand, refer to sugars that are added to foods. This includes cane sugar, honey, agave, maple and corn syrups for example. These foods are often higher in calories and have less nutritional value compared to foods with naturally occurring sugar. Examples of foods with added sugars include cakes, cookies, jams, and soda.
What’s Wrong With Added Sugar?
Nothing is wrong with added sugar per se. In fact, it has important functions in cooking. For example, sugar is needed for browning, caramelization, tenderising and retainingmoisture in baked goods. Sugar also helps to preserve foods for longer.
The problem is really about the balance of added sugars in our diets because too much added sugar can have negative effects on our health. For example added sugar:
- Can lead to unwanted weight gain and development of overweight and obesity.
- Increase the risk of tooth decay.
- Indirectly increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease in later life.
How Much Added Sugar, Is Too Much?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommend that adults and children eat no more than 10% of their daily calorie intake from added sugar and that 5% is preferable! This is between 13 to 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day (5g = 1 teaspoon). As you can imagine, it doesn’t take much to reach the WHO guidelines.
Should I try to quit added sugar completely?
No, quitting sugar completely is really not necessary, balance is important and there are many ways that you can reduce the amount of added sugar that you’re consuming with a few food swaps.
So without further ado, here are 5 groceries items that contain high amounts of hidden sugars and ways that you can switch to healthier alternatives.
1. Flavoured Yoghurts
Yoghurt provides an important source of protein, calcium and probiotics. Unfortunately, many flavoured yoghurts are also high in added sugar. For example, a 150g tub of lemon flavoured yoghurt has up to 15g of sugar (3 teaspoons or 10%).
Try these alternatives to reduce the amount of added sugars in your yoghurt.
- Keep an eye out for flavoured yoghurt varieties that contain less than (8 g) of sugar per serve.
- Buy plain or Greek yoghurt and add your own flavouring like fresh fruit, nuts and/or a small drizzle of honey.
- Mix 1:1 ratio of flavoured yoghurt and plain yoghurt to lower the quantity of added sugar.
2. Premade Sauces and Dressings
You wouldn’t know it to taste, but many pre-made sauces, dressings and marinades contain high amounts of added sugar. For example, 1 tablespoon (17g) of tomato sauce contains up to 4 g (25%) sugar per serve.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to suggest you stop enjoying tomato sauce at your next BBQ! But here are some suggestions to reduce the amount of added sugars in these products.
- Check the ingredients list on dressings and sauces sure sugar is not listed as one of the first three ingredients.
- Compare the number of grams of sugar per serve in the label and choose items with less sugar.
- Make a quick homemade vinaigrette dressing using olive oil and vinegar.
- When cooking, add dried or fresh herbs and spices to add flavour instead of purchasing a pre-made sauce.
- Make a sauce from scratch! This may sound like a lot of work, but it can be easier than you think. Here are some examples.
3. Breakfast Cereal
Walking down the cereal aisle of the grocery store these days is mind-boggling! Bright colours, cartoon characters, health claims plastered over packaging. My kids run over to me showing me new cereal boxes like it’s a bargain at a boxing day sale! There’s so much variety what do you choose?
Many breakfast cereals also include high amounts of added sugar, especially cereals targeting children! For example, a ¾ cup serve of a popular children’s breakfast cereal contains 10g of sugar (2 teaspoons or 37%). This is staggering, and too much sugar in the morning isn’t a great start for kids either. However, there are some good cereal options that contain far less added sugar that you could switch to. For example:
- Wheat biscuits only contain 2g of sugar per serve. Add a sliced banana for sweetness and a nutritious breakfast.
- Rolled oats are a great option and oats have enormous benefits on blood sugar, cholesterol and health! Sweeten with a small amount of syrup, fresh or frozen fruit.
- Wheat flakes, corn flakes and rice cereals are some other options that contain much less sugar per serve.
4. Premade Granola / Muesli Bars
Granola bars (aka museli bars, snack bars) are a popular item for on the go or kids lunchboxes. But some varieties contain a lot of sugar. For example, a 24g chewy granola bar with chocolate chips contains 7g sugar per serve (29%).
Here are some other options to try.
- Compare granola bars at the grocery store and look out for ones that have less sugar.
- Try making your own granola bar for the kids’ lunches using this recipe from the LiveLighter crew.
- Switch a granola bar with some dried crackers and hummus dip instead.
5. Sugar-Sweetened Beverages
Last but not least it’s sugar-sweetened beverage. This isn’t really ‘hidden’, but beverages like soda, sports drinks, flavoured mineral waters, cordial, and other novelty drinks can contain a significant amount of added sugar. For example, a 375ml can of popular soda contains up to 40 g (8 teaspoons) of sugar per serve. So that’s almost our entire sugar recommendation done in one drink.
I won’t beat around the bush when it comes to sugar-sweetened beverages switching it to plain water is better for your health.
Here are some suggestions that you could try using water or carbonated water.
- Soda water with a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime.
- Try infusing regular water with berries or mint.
- Add a small amount of juice to some carbonated water.
Sugar isn’t the enemy, it has important uses in cooking. However, in saying that, it’s still important to limit the amount added sugars within a diet. Next time you’re at the grocery store be on the lookout these foods. Try some of the suggestions to lower your daily added sugar intake but with an added nutritional boost.
World Health Organisation. WHO Calls on countries to reduce sugars intake among adults and children [internet]. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2015 Jun [cited 2015 Jul 20]. Available from: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2015/sugar-guideline/en/