In this day and age, most folks know that added sugar is hiding in a fair share of packaged foods. That’s why so many of us actually skim the ingredients panel on each item we pick up. Though you probably know to double-check the label on that loaf of seemingly healthy whole-grain bread, there are plenty of other sneaky sugar bombs that you may unknowingly be tossing into your cart. It’s not your fault, though; sugar hides under the guise of countless unrecognizable names, making it all too easy to get duped.
Though the FDA passed a law that requires that Nutrition Facts labels differentiate between added sugars and those naturally occurring in things like milk and freeze-dried fruit, companies aren’t required to tweak their packaging until mid-2018. So until then, you should definitely do your own sugar sleuthing. We asked nutritionists to point out which common grocery items are most guilty of sneaking in extra sweetness—be on the lookout for these top six offenders.
Many popular packaged slices contain honey, dextrose, corn syrup, or maltodextrin, which are all forms of added sugar, cautions Edwina Clark, RD, head of nutrition and wellness at Yummly. “These products also contain a myriad of artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives such as nitrites, nitrates, and sodium benzoate.” According to the World Health Organization, synthesized nitrites and nitrates (which are both used to cure lunch meat) can lead to the formation of cancer-causing chemicals.
Shop Smarter: Look for nitrite- and nitrate-free deli meats that don’t contain any unrecognizable ingredients, advises Clark. Applegate Naturals Uncured Black Forest Ham and Hillshire Farm Naturals Slow Roasted Turkey Breast both fit the nutritional bill. Alternatively, consider using home-grilled meats or thinly sliced rotisserie chicken to make your sandwiches.
Just because you grab the organic kind doesn’t mean they’re healthy snacks. “Some bars contain so much sugar that they might as well be candy,” says Tracy Lesht, MS, RD, a Manhattan-based dietitian. When you eat a ton of sugar at once, it spikes your blood sugar, leading to an energy crash that leaves your stomach growling sooner rather than later—basically the opposite of what you want when you grab a snack.
Shop Smarter: Examine those labels, and look for bars with less than 5 grams of the sweet stuff, Lesht advises. We like KIND Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt or Health Warrior Vanilla Almond Chia Bars. Or, better yet, use this mix-and-match matrix to bake a batch of homemade granola bars that include all of your favorite ingredients.
We know, it’s far more convenient to buy a container of pre-flavored ‘gurt than add your own mix-ins, but the extra work is worth it. Most flavored containers are super sugary, especially those that are low fat or contain a syrupy fruit mixture, Lesht points out. “These varieties can contain up to 25 grams of sugar, which can make a seemingly healthy choice not so healthy,” she says.
Shop Smarter: “Choose plain Greek yogurt and add your own healthy toppings such as berries, almonds, or a teaspoon of honey,” Lesht suggests. This way you can manage how much added sugar winds up in your breakfast. Stonyfield 100% Grassfed Greek Plain Yogurt and FAGE Total 2% are unsweetened picks carried in just about every grocery store.
Label scrutiny is a must when it comes to buying juice and other fruit-based products. “Sometimes the sugar added to juice is equal to what you’d find in a can of soda,” Lesht says. The same holds true for applesauce, which often lists sugar or high-fructose corn syrup right after the apples, Clark adds, which indicates that added sugar is the second most prominently used ingredient in the recipe. If all this info has inspired you to dial back on your intake of the sweet stuff, try these 19 expert ways to give up added sugar.
Shop Smarter: Your best bet is to enjoy whole, fresh fruit instead of eating it with a spoon or sipping it through a straw. This way, you’ll also get the benefits of satiating fiber, which is typically lost when produce is processed, Lesht explains. If you can’t bear to give up daily juice, buy refrigerated, cold-pressed blends that include more veggies than fruit. Though cold-pressed varieties are still basically void of fiber, they’re typically free of added sugars and preservatives, making them the better choice. Try Suja’s Classic or Evolution Fresh bottles and cut yourself off after a cup. As for the applesauce, look for unsweetened containers.
Those childhood peanut butter sammies were addicting for a reason. “Many brands of nut butter contain small amounts of sugar, molasses, honey, or dried cane syrup,” Clark says. Those small amounts really add up if you frequently snack on apples with almond butter or blend your spread into smoothies.
Shop Smarter: “Find nut butters that are 100% nuts,” Clark says. Nuts and salt should be the only ingredients listed on the label. We like Smucker’s Natural Chunky Peanut Butter and Trader Joe’s Raw Almond Butter.
“Many of the popular marinara sauce brands have sugar or cane juice listed as the second or third ingredient, and provide up to 13 grams of sugar per ½ cup serving,” Clark says. “Yes, sugar naturally occurs in tomatoes, but crushed canned tomatoes only provide 5 grams of sugar per ½ cup.” That means that the remaining 8 grams are the added variety.
Shop Smarter: When shopping for sauce, scan the nutrition facts carefully. Ideally, you want a jar that contains less than 6 grams of sugar per ½-cup serving. We like Colavita Organic Spicy Marinara or Classico Riserva Marinara—both are free of added sugars. Better yet, prepare your own. “Make a big batch of marinara sauce with canned crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic, onion, dried basil, and dried oregano, and freeze individual servings,” Clark recommends.