Most people already know they should avoid sugar. Even with that knowledge, people still consume way too much sugar and the percentage of calories people get from sugar seems to be increasing. The effects of sugar are dangerous and can lead to many long-term health problems.
When trying to get in shape, most will do a good job at avoiding sugary drinks, candy and desserts, but these are not the only sources of sugar. Many of the products in the supermarket have a lot more sugar than people think. Some of these products are even sold in the health food section so people think they are eating healthy.
I recommend keeping sugar as low as possible. 25 grams and under per day for most, but if you are trying to lose weight, I would keep it as low as possible.
In this article I’ll discuss the top 8 unexpected high sugar foods that people think are healthy and give you a few recommendations on what you can do to substitute these foods.
1. Protein Bars
Protein is important and many bars emphasize their protein content on the label. The thing is, if you took the protein out of most bars, their nutritional info, would look just like a candy bar. Most have way too much sugar to be considered “healthy.” Remember, just because something is marketed as “healthy” doesn’t mean it is.
When I look at the ingredients of some of the top selling bars I see things like cane syrup, sugar, corn syrup and beet juice. Some have fancy names, but all are sugars.
Some of these “high protein” nutrition bars don’t even have a lot of protein, so they are just high priced versions of candy. Instead of being a high protein solution they are just another high sugar food.
Not all protein bars are bad. The best are Quest bars. Their sugar is low and their fiber is high so if you are looking for a great snack on the go, they are what I would recommend. There are a lot of flavors and some are better than others.
The other brand I like is Pure Protein. They are also low in sugar but they don’t have very much fiber. The flavors also vary and some use soy as their protein source, so read the labels. (I’m not a big fan of soy protein.)
2. Salad dressing
When people think of high sugar foods, most won’t think of a salad. The veggies make them a great food choice, but when people start loading them up, that’s when they get very questionable. One of the main culprits is the salad dressing.
Most salad dressings are a double whammy of unhealthiness. First comes the omega-6 industrial seed oils (like Canola, Soybean or Corn) which can increase inflammation. Then comes the sugar which can also increase inflammation and lead to a bunch of other problems. ‘9Why would you want to put sugar on a salad anyway?)
The grams of sugar in these examples might not seem like a lot but pay attention to the serving size. 2 tablespoons is very little and it’s very easy to use a lot more than that, especially if you are eating a big salad.
Instead of buying a salad dressing, why not make your own. You can make a simple oil and vinegar dressing with a good olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
3. Granola bars
Granola bars are not the worst thing in the world. They are definitely better than a lot of other options out there, but I would not classify them as “healthy.” I’m not even sure where they got that rep because they just another one of those high sugar foods.
They are usually made with oats which is not bad, unless you are avoiding carbs. The problem is all the sugar that accompanies the oats. Most are also going to contain those pro-inflammatory oils like canola or soybean.
Granola bars are really not the way to go if you are trying to eat healthy. These may seem like they have less sugar than the previously mentioned high sugar protein bars, but look at the serving sizes when you compare them.
Like I mentioned, not all the ingredients in granola bars are bad, so if you really have your heart set on a granola bar, you can make your own without all the bad stuff. You can replace sugar with stevia and a seed oil with coconut oil.
If you really want a healthy bar, I would recommend the previously mentioned quest bars. Yes, they don’t really taste like granola bars, but they are a great option on the go.
4. Energy drinks/ Sports drinks
Both energy and sports drinks have low-calorie versions but I’m talking about their normal versions, which are loaded with sugar.
Energy drinks are full of caffeine and are used for a quick burst of energy. Caffeine has some great short-term effects, but can have some negative side effects if used long-term. The same goes for sugar. Some energy drinks will also add glucose, which is a sugar that raises insulin levels.
Sports drinks are supposed to be for recovery but many people end up drinking them because they think they are healthier than soda. They are just as sugary and I talked about them in a previous article where I compared sports drinks and coconut water.
If you are looking for an energy boost from an energy drink, the caffeine is where you’re getting it from. A cup of coffee will work but if you’re like me and don’t really drink coffee, you can go with caffeine pills.
If you are looking for recovery from a sports drink, coconut water still has sugar but is a natural alternative. Check out my article sports drinks vs coconut water for more info.
5. Yogurt with Fruit
Yogurt/ Greek yogurt is made from milk so you’re going to get some sugar in the form of lactose. Lactose is a sugar that contains glucose, but it is different from most other sugars because it contains no fructose. This means that it is processed differently in the body.
Even though you don’t want to get too much lactose (especially if you are lactose intolerant) the problem doesn’t come from the lactose, it comes from what’s added to it. Not only are you getting some sugar from the fruits themselves, but some brands will actually add extra sugar in their product. This can be listed as sugar, sucrose, fructose or cane juice.
The good thing about yogurt is that it has some protein, so if you really want some yogurt, I recommend getting the plain version. It doesn’t taste the same one that is fruit flavored but you won’t be getting any added sugar. If you really want some fruit you can add your own fresh fruit. Yes, it does still have sugar but it won’t have added sugar and it will give you a little fiber as well.
6. Sauces and Condiments
There are a lot of different options when it comes to flavoring your foods, but most sauces will have a lot of sugar. The main offenders are ketchup, barbecue sauce and teriyaki sauce. One of the main ingredients for them is sugar. Sometimes it’s listed as sugar and other times it’s listed a high fructose corn syrup or something else. No matter what it’s called, it is still going to affect your body in a negative way so ease up on adding that extra flavor to your food.
Pasta sauce and other sauces are other one’s to watch out for. Some will have sugar or corn syrup added in for extra flavor.
Some of these don’t seem like they have a lot of sugar, but again, pay attention to the serving size because it is very easy to use a lot more than that.
If you want to add flavor, use sauces and condiments without added sugar. Like with salad dressings you can make your own. Apple cider vinegar is a tart alternative without the sugar. If you are making a sauce, it’s best to make your own from scratch so you know what’s in there.
Smoothies are one of the worst high sugar foods. Many people associate smoothies with health because of the fruit. Yes, the fruit will have vitamins, minerals and antioxidants but it also will have a lot of sugar. So if you are one of those people that has a huge fruit smoothie after every workout , you probably need to switch it up.
A large smoothie can have over 500 calories and 100 grams of sugar. That much sugar is not good, even for someone trying to gain lean mass.
I make a smoothie every morning, but I add spinach and/or kale, some protein powder and a scoop of coconut oil. You can check out what else I put in my morning breakfast shake. For a post-workout shake, protein is what will aid in your recovery so I choose a protein powder without any additional sugar or maltodextrin (a common sugar in protein powders.)
8. Dried fruit and juices
Smoothies aren’t the only place people are getting too much fruit. Dried fruits and juices are also high sugar foods that people think are healthy.
Whole fruits in a limited basis aren’t all bad though since they do contain nutrients and fiber. The fiber will slow the rate that the sugar hits the liver. The problem with juice is there is no fiber so the sugar from the fruit will hit your body all at once.
Dried fruits do have fiber but they have the water removed so the sugar is more concentrated. Some dried fruits will make it worse by adding sugar to it.
If you really want some fruit, eat it fresh instead of dried or juiced. This way you’ll get the nutrients and not have to worry about any potential added sugar.