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10 Shocking Sources of Sugar

Think your diet is low in sugar? You’ll be surprised at these foods that contain way more sugar than you think

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Stealth sugars

So here you are, thinking the snack or small meal you’re about to eat is wholesome and well balanced. It’s not a cinnamon roll, right? That may be, but it could contain a whopping amount of sugar.

Health Canada has set the adult recommended daily value for carbohydrates as 300 grams in a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet, and has no recommended daily value for sugars. That’s right. Zero. “This is because there is no daily recommended amount of sugars you need to eat each day,” its website says.

“In terms of specific foods that can be ‘off-balance’ in terms of carbohydrates, sugary products tend to be the culprit-or foods that have a lot of added sugars to them,” says Toronto-area registered dietitian Nicole Berkowitz. Think this doesn’t apply to what you’re eating? Here’s the rub: Even though you think you can easily identify sugary products, there are stealth sugars (a.k.a. carbohydrates) in many of the foods you probably only ever thought of as healthy.

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1. Granola

For the longest time, the word granola itself conjured an earth-loving health-food enthusiast. Yet this breakfast food, especially the kind on grocery shelves, is commonly made with a generous addition of sugar, syrup or honey. A three-quarter-cup serving might have 10 grams of sugar (that’s more than two teaspoons) and 37 grams of carbs. Brands vary in sugar content, but the easiest way to cut down is to simply use granola as a garnish for low-sugar cereal or yogurt. Or make your own using this Best Health recipe, reducing the sugar content.

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2. Pure fruit juice

True or false: Pure fruit juice has less sugar than a fruit-flavoured drink.

The answer: False. It just depends on the drinks in question. What makes pure fruit juice superior is not that it has fewer total carbs, but that it’s high in naturally occurring nutrients. Pure fruit juices can be very high in sugar (Tropicana orange juice has 22 grams per serving, for instance), so they should be consumed in moderation with the overall week’s balance in mind, Berkowitz says.

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3. Bottled spaghetti sauce

Warming up a jar of premade sauce to ladle over pasta is a big time-saver for many a busy household, but consider that it can be jammed with teaspoons of added sugar. Compare the carb content of two with similar ingredients: a homemade Best Health tomato sauce recipe and Prego’s Tomato Onion and Garlic sauce. The former has 9 grams of carbs, the latter 18 grams. So nix the jars for homemade tomato sauce, or look for labels with lower total carbohydrates. “Knowing how to read labels will help you to decipher which pre-prepared products are the healthy choice, and can help to make your diet much healthier and well-balanced if you’re time-crunched,” Berkowitz says.

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4. Dried fruit

Make no doubt about it, dried fruit is good for you. In moderation. For instance, prunes are one of the foods that help keep you young. But if you’re trying to reduce your sugar intake, watch out for dried fruits, which are probably higher in sugar than you think. A quarter cup of raisins, for instance, includes 130 calories and 31 g of carbs. That’s about equivalent to a full can of ginger ale soda.

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5. Fruity yogurt

You may be surprised to find that a small grab-and-go container of yogurt with fruit in it has 110 calories, and 20 grams of carbs. And there is zero fibre listed on the label, even though you’re eating a yogurt with strawberry “pieces” in it. But back to the carbs: 20 grams doesn’t sound like a lot, until you compare it to the plain version of the same yogurt, which has just 5 grams. Next time, slash the sugar by opting for naturally-sweetened yogurt.

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6. Teriyaki sauce

Steamed vegetables and chicken coated with three tablespoons of bottled teriyaki sauce sounds quite restrained, even healthy. And it can be, so long as you compensate elsewhere in your diet for the sauce, which is surprisingly high in sugar and very high in sodium. Those three tablespoons add up to about 1,200 mg of sodium (more than half your RDA) and 17 grams of carbs (the second ingredient is usually sugar), according to the bottle in my pantry. To limit it, try drizzling just a tablespoon of teriyaki sauce over your meal or putting it in a dipping bowl on the side instead of coating the whole dish.

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7. Vanilla soy milk

Plain soy milk and vanilla soy milk look the same, but carb-wise they are not. In the case of one highly recognizable brand, the vanilla version is not just a flavoured version of the plain-it’s far sweeter. For instance, the plain soy milk has 12 grams of carbs per cup. The vanilla has 22 grams. And waist-watchers should note that the fat-free version has even more: a surprising 26 grams of carbohydrates per cup. That doesn’t mean you must shun any of them, says Berkowitz-but it’s all about balance. “The most important thing is to be aware of what is in the foods you eat and to be able to maintain a healthy balance of the different food groups over a week to ensure you’re getting the most out of your diet.”

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8. Smoothies

These blended drinks can provide everything from vitamins to a sneak serving of fibre (see 6 ways to sneak more fibre into your diet), particularly if you make them yourself. They can also be alarmingly high in sugar if you add heaping tablespoons of sugar or honey, or if you don’t know what’s in them at a restaurant or juice bar. And don’t expect the healthiest-sounding takeout smoothie to be the lowest in sugar.

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9. Sweet onion salad dressing

Depending on your tastebuds, one packet of sweet onion vinaigrette may taste as sweet as one packet of raspberry dressing by the same maker. Both are vinaigrettes, which makes them sound healthy. But one has four times the sugar. Can you guess which? It was the sweet onion vinaigrette that had 4 grams of sugar in one tablespoon, versus the raspberry with 1 gram. If you’re not a fan of sweet salad dressings, consider mixing your own, leaving out any added sugar.

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10. Sweet onion and teriyaki sandwich

Combine a sweet onion dressing (number 9 on our list) and teriyaki sauce (number 6) and it’s not surprising you get a sugar-laden meal. If you’re ordering the six-inch sweet onion chicken teriyaki from Subway, brace yourself for a massive 16 grams of sugar. That’s as much as one of its chocolate chunk cookies. Not every Subway sandwich will shock you with its sugar content, though. For instance, the same-size ham sandwich without cheese has a respectable 7 grams of sugar. The roast beef has just 6 grams, as does the oven-baked chicken.