It is common knowledge that confectionary foods such as cakes, ice creams and candy are packed with carbohydrate and sugar, and are unhealthy for regular consumption. Sugar is also added to most processed foods to enhance their flavour and to increase shelf life. Added sugar is usually present in the form of glucose, corn syrup, dextrose, glucose syrup, lactose, fructose, honey, maple syrup, maltose, molasses and sucrose.
Increased awareness about the risks of excess sugar consumption has led many people to cut down on sugar intake. However, many of us are unaware that several snacks, sauces and beverages that are not really sweet may be secretly packed with loads of sugar. It is important to be aware of such foods, the frequent consumption of which might lead to unhealthy outcomes.
Foods with hidden sugar in them
There are several foods we consume regularly that contain a surprisingly high amount of hidden sugar in them. Some of these include:
- Carbonated beverages
Carbonated beverages such as colas, sports drinks, sodas and other soft drinks contain a high amount of sugar in them which can spike the blood sugar levels of the body very quickly. They not only increase the glucose content in the body but also result in bloating and heartburn. Most popular carbonated beverages often have a ‘diet’ version with low sugar, but it is important to note that such beverages often have artificial sweeteners added instead.
- Fruit juice
Fruits are considered extremely healthy and they offer several nutritional benefits. Fruit juice, on the other hand, does retain some of the health benefits of the whole fruits they are made from, but also lose other nutritional aspects. In particular, fruit juice lacks heart-healthy fibre which is abundantly present in the whole fruits. Thus, it is advisable to choose moderate portions of whole fruits rather than their juice.
- Breakfast cereal
Breakfast cereals such as cornflakes and muesli are often mistaken to be health foods to start the day with. However, many of these cereals have added flavours and high sugar content in them. People must read through the ingredients of the cereal packs before buying, to avoid causing blood sugar spikes after consumption. Healthier breakfast cereal options include wholewheat cereal biscuits and porridge oats.
- Sauces and ketchup
Sauces, salad dressings, and ketchup are often used to complement meals and sandwiches. However, a little known fact is that such foods contain significant amounts of sugar in addition to the other healthy ingredients that they are usually known to consist of (e.g., tomatoes, chillies, etc). The extra calories in these foods can contribute to weight gain and also wreak havoc on blood sugar levels. It is important to check the nutrition label on these products before buying them.
While yoghurt/curds are healthy foods especially on account of the gut-friendly bacteria they contain, studies have shown that flavoured varieties usually contain high amounts of sugar and other flavour enhancers. This contributes to their high calorific value. It is better to choose plain low-fat yoghurt and add freshly cut fruits to enhance their flavour.
The bread that people eat daily may not taste sweet but is filled with sugar. 100 gms of white bread contains around 5 grams of sugar. Also, processed brown bread which is claimed to be healthier can sometimes contain the same amount of sugar as found in white bread. A much healthier alternative is whole wheat bread which retains the fiber from the grain.
- Protein powder and bars
Protein powders available in the market are mixed with added sugar to make them taste better. Many people start their day with a granola bar (protein bar) but they are unaware of the fact that it is high in calories and added sugar. When granola is mixed with honey, sweet syrups, nuts, chocolate, dried fruits and other added sweeteners, its sugar content skyrockets. While choosing a protein powder or bar, people must read the label to avoid those with high sugar in them.
- Alcoholic drinks
There are certain alcoholic drinks which have high caloric content. Alcohol contains 7 kilocalories per gram whereas the caloric content of carbohydrates is 4 kilocalories per gram. A standard glass of wine (175ml) contains around 126 kilocalories which are equivalent to the number of calories found in a piece of chocolate. Regular alcohol consumption can be counter-productive for people trying to lose weight.
Why is high sugar harmful to health?
Excess sugar consumption has been associated with many health issues.
- A study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine stated that people who consume a high-sugar diet are at an increased risk of dying from heart disease. In this study, the scientists analysed the subjects for 15 years and found that people who got 17% to 21% calories from added sugar in their diet had a 38% increased risk of dying from heart diseases compared to people who consumed 8% calories as added sugar.
- Another study conducted at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and University School of Medicine concluded that people who consume high levels of sugary carbonated beverages are at increased risk of developing coronary artery disease despite having no medical history of cardiovascular disease, cancer or diabetes.
- Studies reveal excessive sugar consumption can lead to obesity and metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, non-alcoholic fatty liver and dental problems (cavities and plaque deposition).
As a substitute to consuming sugary foods, one can switch to healthy alternatives such as sweet potatoes, whole fruits, puddings made from chia seeds, fresh coconut water and whole wheat cookies. It is important to check the nutrition label on packed or processed food items to be aware of the number of calories and added sugars they contain. A dietician can be consulted to identify better and healthier options to the foods that contain hidden sugar.