Popular “health foods” are sneaky sources of sugar.
As far as you’re concerned, you’re having a pretty healthy day. You start off with a glass of orange juice and a bowl of whole-grain cereal. By mid-morning, when you’ve got the munchies, you reach for some mini rice cakes and a cup of yogurt, and lunch is just a smoothie and an energy bar. You end the day with some spaghetti drizzled with marinara. Truth is, you might as well have just eaten ice cream and cookies all day, because all of these foods have added up to an insane 200 grams (50 teaspoons) of sugar. Here are 10 ostensibly “healthy” foods that often have even more sugar than a can of Coke.
You down that glass of cow’s milk every day thinking about how the calcium and vitamin D are so good for you – and they are. But just a single 8-ounce serving of plain old 1% milk contains 12 grams of sugar. That’s 3 teaspoons hiding in a very unexpected place. The real trouble comes along when you add any kind of flavoring, like chocolate or strawberry. A carton of flavored milk is a popular “healthy” option for children’s school lunches, yet either option contains between 25 and 30 grams of sugar. For reference, a can of Coca-Cola Classic clocks in at 27 grams.
Non-dairy milk tends to fare a little better. Silk brand soymilk has 6 grams of sugar per cup, while So Delicious brand coconut milk contains 7 grams. The original flavor of Rice Dream has 10 grams of sugar, and the vanilla kind has 12. Get the unsweetened version of Almond Breeze and you won’t be taking in any sugar at all, but the chocolate version is nearly as bad as dairy chocolate milk at 20 grams.
Take a stroll through the cereal aisle and you’ll see box after box of sugary confections that look more like desserts than breakfast. Of course, all of those glazed mini cinna-buns and marshmallows are clearly not healthy, but what about the whole grain oats, shredded wheat and flax flakes? General Mills’ Oatmeal Crisp Crunchy Almond is “whole grain guaranteed,” but the ingredients include brown sugar, sugar, high-fructose corn syrup and honey, making it 27% sugar. Kellogg’s Raisin Bran may be mostly wheat flakes, but it still has just as much sugar as Lucky Charms at 19 grams. In contrast, Kashi 7 Grain Whole Puffs has zero grams of sugar, and Cheerios have just 1. Check out this chart at Harvard School of Public Health to compare dozens of varieties.
Greek yogurt is kind of having a moment. It’s rich, it’s creamy and it’s good for you, packed with protein as well as probiotics that maintain bacterial balance in the gut. The plain versions offered by brands like Fage or Chobani contain a lot of saturated fat (up to 16 grams per serving – as much as three Snickers bars) but the low and no-fat kinds taste just as good. Then, of course, there’s the sugar. I happen to have four flavors of Chobani fat-free greek yogurt in my fridge, so I decided to check each one. Plain? Not too bad at 7 grams of sugar. But I nearly choked when I saw that the 6-ounce pineapple, peach and blueberry flavored yogurt cups contain 18, 19 and 20 grams, respectively. Ouch.
Other types of yogurt, unsurprisingly, are even more sickly-sweet. A 6-ounce container of Stonyfield Farm vanilla yogurt has 25 grams, and a cup of Yoplait Original Blueberry has the exact same amount of sugar as a can of Coke. But the worst by far is another flavor offered by Stonyfield Farm: fat-free “Chocolate Underground,” at 35 grams of sugar. Add in any of your own sugary toppings, like granola, and you might as well be having ice cream for breakfast.
The word “granola” is used to this day to describe people who are wholesome, down-to-earth and health conscious. This may be a bit of a misnomer, at least when it comes to the last point. Mixing rolled oats with dried fruit, nuts and sugar or honey can produce a product that’s got more sugar than soda and more fat than french fries. An 8-ounce cup can contain as much as 30 grams of sugar and granola bars, which are often globbed together with even more sugar, can be even worse. Look for low-sugar options or make your own.
Squeezed straight from fresh oranges, apples, pineapples and other fruits, juice should be one of the healthiest foods on the planet. It can’t be that bad if there’s no added sugar, right? Wrong. These fruits are naturally full of sugar, meaning they don’t need any help to be sweeter than soda. Apple juice has a whopping 10 teaspoons of sugar in just 12 ounces, and orange juice has 8. Grape juice actually beats Coca-Cola by half, with 15 teaspoons or an unbelievable 60 grams.
And, as anyone who has ever comparison shopped for juice knows, 100% pure fruit juices are outnumbered by all of the varieties that contain added sugar. An 8-ounce glass of Ocean Spray Cranberry Cocktail has more sugar than a can of soda at 33 grams, while an 8 ounce bottle of Minute Maid Cranberry Grape juice, which is “25% fruit juice”, contains 38 grams.
You’re halfway through a long workout and can’t stop thinking about food. It’s the perfect time to break out an energy bar, which provides the protein, fats and carbs that your body needs for optimal performance, and after all, you’ve earned it. But be careful. Nutritional bars contain lots of sugar to help you power through a workout, but those grams still count toward your daily limit. A fruit and nut Boomi Bar in Apricot Cashew flavor has 19 grams of sugar, a Kashi Go Lean roll has 14 and a Kind Fruit & Nut Delight contains 11 grams. Grab a Clif Bar in the enticing seasonal flavor of Iced Gingerbread and you’ll be taking in 24 grams of sugar, or 6 teaspoons.
Popping dried fruit instead of candy? You might benefit from the extra vitamins and minerals, but you’re still getting about the same amount of sugar. It would seem that canned or jarred fruits packed in syrup would be among the worst packaged fruits on the sugar scale, but a small cup of Del Monte diced pears has 17 grams and it only gets worse from there. Motts apple sauce has 23 grams of sugar in a small serving cup, and just 1/3 cup of Ocean Spray’s Craisins dried cranberries contains 29 grams.
On the road without a pre-packaged breakfast, what’s a health-conscious traveler to do? If you’re desperate, the oatmeal options at either Starbucks or McDonald’s might be tempting but don’t give in. McDonald’s oatmeal cup, ostensibly made up of just oats, milk, brown sugar and fruit, actually has 11 ingredients and more sugar than a Snickers bar at 32 grams. In fact, it has just 10 fewer calories than a McDonald’s cheeseburger or Egg McMuffin. Meanwhile, at Starbucks, the “optional dried fruit topping” has 20 grams of sugar, and you can add even more with a packet of brown sugar.
Eating at home? A packet of instant oatmeal might be slightly better than the drive-in options, but it’s still far from healthy. Quaker’s raisin, date and walnut variety has 11 grams of sugar and the strawberries and cream kind has 12. Try the low-sugar, varieties instead, or choose Kashi brand, which averages 6-7 grams per serving.
You probably don’t need anyone to tell you that smoothies from McDonalds or Dunkin Donuts aren’t anywhere near as wholesome as claimed. Sure, there’s “real fruit” in a McDonalds strawberry banana, mango pineapple or wild berry smoothie, but there’s also 49 grams of sugar. A 16-ounce Dunkin Donuts strawberry banana smoothie has 69 grams of sugar and the same size Jamba Juice Sunrise Banana Berry smoothie contains 59 grams.
Tomatoes don’t have many calories, so why would crushed tomatoes in a jar add up to over 100 calories per serving? It’s partially the olive or other vegetable oils, but another culprit is up to 6 teaspoons of sugar. The 9 grams of sugar in Classico’s Sweet Basil sauce or the 11 grams in Ragu’s Sundried Tomato and Sweet Basil may not send you into a sugar crash on its own, but they definitely add up fast.
Long thought of as the ultimate diet food, rice cakes typically resemble nothing so much as round slices of styrofoam. But in a bid to catch health-conscious shoppers, manufacturers have begun releasing these puffed rice snacks in a wider range of flavors from sour cream and onion to caramel corn. Quaker’s Vanilla Creme Brulee mini rice snack cakes pack 8 grams into a serving.
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