Sugar has received a bad rep recently, and for good reason. Added sugar is the primary reason for the obesity epidemic and it’s super addictive. Excess consumption leads to weight gain(1) and a whole host of metabolic problems like heart disease(2), type 2 diabetes(3) and cancer(4).
With the help of Jamie Oliver's sugar campaign and the subsequent introduction of the sugar drinks levy in 2018(5), it brought the problem of added sugar into the mainstream media.
It's pretty clear now that the consumption of added sugar should be reduced for health benefits. What isn't clear is how many products have sugar added to it.
This article isn't going to focus on the obvious culprits like cakes, chocolates and fizzy drinks, but the products that you wouldn't even consider to be sweet.
The government guidelines suggest that added sugar shouldn't make up more than 5% of your daily energy intake(6). Which works out roughly 30g of added sugar a day as a maximum. 1 teaspoon of sugar contains around 4g of sugar so no more than 7 and a half teaspoons of added sugar a day.
Below are the top 10 foods that are surprisingly high in sugar.
1. Low-fat yogurt
“low fat” usually means high sugar as companies understand that removing the fat from a product reduces the palatability. Sugar is thus added to enhance the flavour. Around half of the calories in a supermarket brand yogurt comes from sugar.
Sugar: 13g per serving (3 teaspoons of sugar)
A very popular sauce to add to foods and one you wouldn't think contains sugar but a single serving of ketchup is around 25% sugar. The amount of sugar can add up if used frequently.
Sugar: 3.4g per serving (just under 1 teaspoon)
Marketed as a healthy product and a substitute to breakfast cereals. Be very weary, these are high in sugar. Take for example ‘Jordans crunchy oat granola, fruit and nut,' a third of it is sugar. It has the equivalent sugar level as coco pops.
Sugar: 13g per 45g serving (3 teaspoons of sugar)
4. Canned baked beans
A savoury product that you wouldn't think would contain added sugar. Take the brand leader Heinz:
Sugar: 10.3g per half a can serving (2.5 teaspoons of sugar)
5. Vitamin Water
Two words that are associated with healthy eating, water and vitamin. Don't be fooled by this cunning marketing. It has high amounts of vitamins and minerals as well as a lot of added sugar. 95% of the calories from a single bottle come entirely from sugar.
Sugar: 15g per bottle (4 teaspoons of sugar)
6. Tomato soup
Another savoury product that you wouldn't assume had sugar in it. And a product often consumed by health conscious individuals as it counts as one of your five a day.
Sugar: 9.7g per half a can serving (2.4 teaspoons of sugar)
7. Breakfast bars
These on-the-go cereal bars are very high in sugar. Even the products marketed as ‘healthy’ like ‘Jordans frusili’, ‘nakd’ and ‘Eat Natural’ all contain alarmingly high levels of sugar. Roughly around a third of these products is pure sugar.
Sugar: 10g per 30g serving (2.5 teaspoons of sugar)
8. Pasta sauces
A savoury product not thought of as having sugar, but sugar is the 4th main ingredient in these products. Around half the calories from the sauce come from sugar.
Sugar: 7.3g per serving (2 teaspoons of sugar)
9. Sports drinks
A health product marketed towards those who exercise or play sport to improve performance and endurance. It contains sugar that is unnecessary unless you're an elite athlete or marathon runner.
Sugar: 18g per bottle (4.5 teaspoons of sugar)
Cocktails are by far the worst culprits when it comes to sugar content in alcohol. Below is the sugar content for a single mojito. You can see that it can add up in calories and sugar content if you're having more than one.
Sugar: 25g per glass (6 teaspoons of sugar)
Small amounts of added sugar in the diet aren't an issue. It's when we consume high levels of added sugar that it becomes a problem. Anything pre-made or processed usually contains added sugar and most products that are marketed as healthy are far from that. Try and prep your own meals so that you know exactly what's inside your food. Also, most of these products do come in a ‘reduced sugar’ version. So it's easy to still enjoy these products without the high amounts of sugar. Make sure to read labels or use tracking apps like Myfitnesspal to see the sugar content in products.
Always aim for a balanced healthy diet. There's nothing wrong with consuming added sugar. Just be more aware of how much sugar you're consuming and make sure it's in moderation.