Sugar is truly insidious. About 90 percent of the food lining the aisles of your grocery store contains at least a little bit of sugar. Even when you think you’re buying something healthy, there’s often a lot more sugar in it than you realize. Because eating sugar makes you crave more sugar, you often still want sugary treats after eating what you thought was a healthy snack. Then the craving cycle keeps repeating itself.
Before your next trip to the store, check out some of the worst offenders—these seemingly healthy foods are loaded with hidden sugar.
You’ll grab a container of yogurt as a portable breakfast or snack, thinking it’s a healthy option. But flavored yogurts contain a lot more sugar than you might think. For instance, a single 6-ounce container of Yoplait Original strawberry has 19 grams of sugar. Noosa, a brand that markets with a farm-to-container message, is an even worse offender, with 31 grams of sugar in an 8-ounce serving of strawberry yogurt.
There are two ways to work around this yogurt pitfall. You can buy plain Greek yogurt (which contains natural sugars—about 9 grams of sugar in 1 cup) and add a few fresh berries. You can also look for a flavored brand with a lower sugar content. YQ by Yoplait is a new line of yogurt with 9 grams of sugar and 15 grams of protein in a 5.3-ounce serving. Chobani recently launched a low-sugar flavored line as well, with “a hint of” various fruit flavors. “A hint of Monterey Strawberry,” for example, contains 9 grams of sugar and 12 grams of protein in a 5.3-ounce serving. Icelandic Skyr also contains less sugar than protein—11 grams of sugar versus 15 grams of protein.
One thing worth noting is that you should avoid the low-calorie yogurts that include artificial and alternative sweeteners. While they may reduce your sugar intake, the taste of something sweet can still set off the sugar cravings cycle.
Green Juices and Smoothies
Green juices look so healthy—after all, they’re green, so they must be full of vegetables, right? But you need to read the nutrition label and ingredient list. The first few ingredients are often apple juice, so the sugar content is actually really high. Take Naked Juice, for example. Their bottles have a “no sugar added” stamp but a single 15-ounce serving of their Green Machine juice contains 53 grams of sugar from fruit juice. That’s more than the same amount of Coke, which has 49 grams of sugar.
Smoothies have a similar health halo, since they are full of fruit and yogurt. But fruit and dairy have a lot of sugar, even if the sugars are natural, not added. You might grab a smoothie as a snack, not realizing you just drank 52 grams of sugar in one sitting (which is what Odwalla’s Original Superfood fruit smoothie contains). If you love smoothies, try Sweet Defeat co-founder Arianne Perry’s low-sugar strawberry smoothie recipe, which has 7.5 grams of sugar and just two ingredients.
Almond, soy and other dairy-free alternative milks have become really popular. Unfortunately, these milks often have something that cow milk doesn’t have — added sugar! Unless specifically noted, both the Original and Vanilla versions of alternative milks have added sugar to improve the flavor. Silk Original Almond Milk has 7 grams of sugar in 1 cup, while Silk Vanilla Almond Milk has 13 grams.
One way to avoid these added sugars is by looking for the products that are marked as unsweetened. The unsweetened Almond Milk by Silk has 0 grams of sugar, a much better alternative! Another good option is the Organic Cashew Homestyle Nutmilk by Califia Farms, which contains only 1 gram of sugar.
While whole-grain bread can be a part of a low-sugar lifestyle, you have to be careful which ones you pick up in the grocery store. A lot of breads and bagels often contain added sugar. Look at the nutrition label and ingredient list. The 100% Whole Wheat Bagels from Thomas have 7 grams of sugar each; so does the house brand from Target. And organic breads aren’t immune from added sugars: some versions of Dave’s Killer Bread, for example, contain 5 grams of sugar in a slice. There are definitely whole-wheat options with less sugar, like the 100% Whole Wheat Bread by Nature’s Own, which contains 1 gram of sugar in each slice. As long as you’re a careful reader of labels, you can find bread that’s low in sugar.
Protein and Snack Bars
Protein bars are often seen as a healthy alternative to junk foods, but they’re are often full of sugar. The Builder’s Protein bar by CLIF, for example, contains 21 grams of sugar—not a good snack if you’re trying to avoid the sugar craving cycle. Instead, look to foods like roasted nuts for a snack with protein and healthy fat, which will help tide you over until your next meal. Almonds have just 2 grams of sugar in ½ cup.
You know that sugar-laden cereals like Froot Loops and Lucky Charms aren’t so good for you. But if you’re eating granola with milk for breakfast, thinking that’s a healthy option, you’re likely getting a big dose of sugar as well. A cup of Nature Valley Oats ’n Honey Granola has 24 grams of sugar—pretty close to the 25 grams of sugar the American Heart Association recommends you get in the entire day.
Instead, think of granola as a condiment, sprinkling it as a sweet touch on plain yogurt, and look for brands with lower sugar content like Purely Elizabeth Original, which has 6 grams of sugar in ⅓ cup.
Salad dressings can be a great way to dress up your greens, but bottled dressings from the store can be full of added sugars. Low-fat dressings are particularly bad culprits, since the sugar provides flavor to make up for the fat. Always double-check the nutrition facts, watching out for high-sugar options like the Poppy Seed and Raspberry & Walnut dressing from Newman’s Own, which contains 5 grams of sugar in a serving. The same brand makes lower sugar options: Organic Caesar from Newman’s Own contains only 1 gram of sugar in a serving. Better yet, make your own salad dressings that contain no sugar with simple recipes like these.
Another source of hidden sugar is spaghetti sauce. Tomatoes have natural sugars, but a lot of brands add more—the sweetness makes you eat and crave more of it (a pretty insidious sales technique, right?). Common grocery store brands like Prego have 9 grams of sugar in a ½ cup serving. Look for brands that have no added sugar, like Cucina Antica. They still contain 5 grams of sugar in a ½ cup serving from the tomatoes alone, so sauce your pasta sparingly with that knowledge in mind.
When you go out for Japanese food, you may think you’re eating a healthy dinner. But if you’re craving sweets after eating sushi, it may be because the rice traditionally gets mixed with sugar. If you’re cutting back on sugar, you need to be aware of all the sources, especially the hidden ones in savory foods like sushi. Otherwise, you’re eating a lot more sugar than you think!
Whether you’re headed out to eat or simply filling your shopping cart, it’s a good practice to check the labels and pay careful attention to all the food you’re eating. This can help you avoid accidentally buying a healthy food containing hidden sugars and unintentionally triggering the sugar cravings cycle.