Sugars in your diet can be naturally occurring or added. Naturally occurring sugars are found naturally in foods such as fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose). Added sugars are sugars and syrups put in foods and beverages during preparation, the manufacturing process, or added at the table.
Added sugars are also often ‘hidden’ in unsuspecting food products like sauces, drinks and muesli bars. This means that you don’t always account for them when considering your sugar intake and tricks us into thinking we can enjoy them more often and in large quantities.
However, added or hidden sugar is the single worst ingredient in the modern diet as it provides calories with no nutritional value or added nutrients, which can damage your health in the long-term.
A plethora of research now shows that consuming added sugars, regularly, has a detrimental impact on just about every organ system in the body. As a result, increasing your risk of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and even cancer. Sugar has also been shown to influence microbial balance in the gut, interfering with gastrointestinal health and increasing levels of inflammation. It’s also a major contributor to tooth decay and the obesity epidemic.
But how much is too much? Can you eat a little bit of sugar each day without harm, or should you avoid it altogether?
The World Health Organisation recommends limiting added sugars to less than 10 percent of your total intake throughout the day. This is equivalent to approximately 50 grams or 12 teaspoons of sugar per day for the average Australian adult (based on a 8,700 kilojoule intake). To put this in perspective, one can of Coke provides around 40 grams or 10 teaspoons of added sugars.
To tell if a processed food contains added or hidden sugars, you need to be a bit of a detective and you have to look at the list of ingredients. There are over 50 different names for sugar. There are those ending in “ose,” such as dextrose, glucose, maltose, sucrose etc., and there are other names for sugar including high fructose corn syrup, molasses, cane sugar, corn sweetener, raw sugar, syrup, honey, treacle or fruit juice concentrates.
Knowing which foods and drinks contain high amounts of hidden sugars is a great way to stay on top of your daily recommended intake and focus on foods which truly provide the greatest benefits. Some common foods and beverages that contain hidden sugars might shock you and include:
- Sports drinks/Vitamin water – Although they seem like they will fulfill you with boundless energy and vitality, vitamin waters (or “vitamin infused” waters) will likely be no better for you than an equivalent sports drinks. Vitamin waters can have around six teaspoons of sugar in 500ml and sports drinks can contain nine teaspoons.
- Energy drinks – Some large energy drinks contain up to 21 teaspoons of sugar, which plays a massive havoc and rises in blood sugar levels. The smaller sizes still contain between 6-8 teaspoons of sugar.
- Cereal, including hot cereals like flavoured porridge – it’s obvious that the likes of coco pops and fruit loops are laden with sugar. But some less likely culprits like quick oats with honey can contain 8g sugar per 35g sachet.
- Bread – it should go without saying that white bread is full of sugar – it’s a highly processed ‘food’ after all. But don’t be fooled by some multigrain and wheat breads as many commercial brands might add sugars and colouring to their bread to make it more appealing.
- Sushi – sushi rice is made with sugar and rice vinegar. On average, two tablespoons of sugar and two tablespoons of rice vinegar is used per two cups of sushi rice.
- Bottled sauces – a 15ml serve of tomato sauce can have about a teaspoon of sugar. Unsurprisingly, the same amount of sweet chilli sauce has double that. BBQ sauce packs a whopping 8g sugar per squirt.
- Alcohol – there are many different types of alcohol beverages and it’s a no-brainer that pre-mixers contain a ton of sugar (9 teaspoons per can), as well as mixed drinks made with juice or soft drink. However, sugar is a common ingredient in the preparation of wine, cider, beer and spirits so don’t think you’re escaping it entirely.
- Pre-made pasta sauce – some common supermarket varieties may contain more than 10 sugar per serve, equivalent to 2-3 teaspoons.
- Salad dressings – most regular salad dressings contain about 2-4g sugar per 15 mL serve.
- Sweetened teas such as iced tea – if you’re buying these drinks thinking they are a better option than soft drink, you may want to think again. One small bottle can contain 4-5 teaspoons of sugar, being the second ingredient after water and BEFORE tea!!
- Baked Beans – sugar is spelled out in the top five ingredients in the ingredients list. For ½ a cup, you’re getting 1-2 teaspoons sugar.
- Yoghurt – in particular, flavoured yoghurt may have up to three times the sugar of plain or Greek yoghurt.
- Milk (especially almond milk)
- Muesli bars – most people think this is a healthy alternative snack, but some- particularly those made with dried fruit and/or flavoured yoghurt can be more than 20% sugar (8g sugar)!