For years, we were told that reducing fat intake was the key to losing weight and staying healthy. An entire generation grew up hearing about the evils of fat and cholesterol and how these two substances were the root cause of all our ailments. But food science has advanced, and there’s a new dietary villain atop the most dangerous list... one that deserves the title.
Sugar is the new arch enemy, having been linked to increased risk of several health concerns. But the problem isn’t just that too much sugar is bad for us, it’s that added sugars seem to be everywhere in our standard American diet… even supposedly healthy foods.
A Day of "Healthy Eating" Can Contain Over 100 Grams of Sugar
Here is our example menu:
- Breakfast: Cereal with milk + glass of juice
- Snack: Yogurt
- Lunch: Chicken with BBQ sauce + salad with fat-free salad dressing
- Snack: Protein bar
- Dinner: Spaghetti + salad with fat-free salad dressing
Grand Total: 140 Grams of Sugar
How Much Sugar Should You Eat? "For an adult of a normal body mass index (BMI), that works out to about 6 teaspoons -- or 25 grams -- of sugar per day." - CBSnews
Our day of "healthy eating" had nearly 5x the recommended sugar intake. It really adds up fast. You can see the breakdown of some surprisingly high sugar foods below.
The following list is proof that you must be diligent about checking the nutrition facts no matter what the food’s popular reputation may be.
Whether you make them from a box or buy them off the bakery rack at the grocery store, muffins are often loaded with as many as 15 grams of sugar per serving. They seem like a quick, healthy breakfast or snack—especially the ones with fruit—but more often than not, they’re formulated for your sweet tooth, not your waistline.
You’ll start seeing a trend to this list… what masquerades as a healthy breakfast item is really a front for added sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Granola bars can have up to 9 grams of sugar per bar, along with other unhealthy ingredients like enriched white flour. Stick to whole fruit and nuts and skip the bars.
Most popular protein bars are no better for you—sugar wise—than those breakfast bars. Sure, they’ll pump up your protein intake quite nicely, but if you want any sort of pleasant taste, expect to see up to 20 or more grams of added sugar to make them palatable. Your best bet is to mix up a protein shake.
A lot of us grew up eating cereal for breakfast. Cereal makers are experts at hooking kids’ attention with fun characters and bright colors on the box. They couldn’t care less about the nutrition facts. Parents, on the other hand, need to pay attention. Sugary cereals are practically nothing but sugar.
Just like opting for fresh fruit and nuts over store-bought breakfast bars, some supper staples are also best prepared from scratch. When you buy a jar of spaghetti sauce, look for “no sugar added” or “no high fructose corn syrup” on the label. Otherwise, your Italian meal will come with upwards of 12 grams of added sugar per serving.
The quickest way to turn an otherwise healthy salad of mixed greens and veggies into a sugar-laden meal is to add salad dressing (or too much salad dressing, in my case). Even “light” or "fat-free" varieties pose a problem, as they make up for a lack of fat flavor by boosting sugar content. Try making your own dressing from balsamic vinegar, organic olive oil and a pinch of organic Italian seasoning.
I love ketchup, but when I stop to consider that a quarter of the bottle is nothing but sugar, it’s a lot easier to overcome my craving. And it’s not just ketchup. BBQ sauce, mayonnaise, ranch dips… they’re all loaded with sugar. Regular yellow mustard, however, is one condiment you can keep in your fridge with no guilt—it has zero fat and next to no sugar, salt or calories.
Fruit juice sounds healthy, and it does deliver some valuable antioxidants… but where do you think that sweet flavor comes from? When you extract the juice from fruit, you’re missing out on all that wonderful fruit fiber. All you’re getting is the sugary sweet taste. And tea is great, until you add flavor (i.e. sugar).
I’ve never been a big fan of energy drinks. I prefer to get my boost from a cup of freshly brewed black coffee or green tea. Sure, energy drinks rely heavily on caffeine to make good on their promise, but what the commercials never tell you is they’re also loaded up with sugar.
The old myth that the only way we dedicated Americans can get enough calcium to prevent weak, brittle bones is through drinking gallons of milk has long been debunked. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of marketing money keeping the myth alive. Today’s processed milk is one of the leading sources of hidden sugar, containing a whopping 12 grams per serving. If you eat a healthy diet that includes fresh veggies, you’re getting all the calcium your body needs without drinking another animal’s milk.
I love bread, am a bit lazy and quite cheap. So I struggle with what to do about bread, a staple in my diet. I know store-bought bread (the cheapest and most convenient option) is loaded not only with added sugar, but unhealthy preservatives. I also know fresh bread (from the bakery or homemade) contains just a pinch of sugar per one whole loaf. Did you know there was such a difference?
Ah, back to breakfast items. If you’re a yogurt lover, stick with the Greek yogurt (but skip the flavored varieties). Plain Greek yogurt is a wonderful source of protein and calcium, but all those fruit-flavored options can feature as many as 20 extra grams of unnecessary sugar.
About the only time I eat canned soup these days is when I’m fighting off a strong head cold. It’s easy, it goes down well and it tastes good. Because it’s only a once- or twice-a-year splurge, I’m okay with the extra 15 grams of added sugar each serving contains. Otherwise, canned soup needs to stay on the shelf at the supermarket.
It’s pretty simple: flavor has to come from somewhere, because we Americans are all about flavor. If it’s labeled as “fat-free” or “light,” the taste is coming from added sugar instead of fat.
- Muffins (up to 15 grams of sugar)
- Breakfast Bars/Granola Bars (up to 9 grams of sugar)
- Protein Bars (up to 20 grams of sugar)
- Cereal (over 10 grams of sugar)
- Store-Bought Spaghetti Sauce (up to 12 grams of sugar)
- Salad Dressing (up to 10 grams of sugar)
- Condiments (over 10 grams of sugar)
- Fruit Juice & Flavored Teas (up to 36 grams of sugar)
- Energy Drinks (up to 54 grams of sugar)
- Milk (up to 12 grams of sugar)
- Bread (up to 3 grams of sugar per slice)
- Yogurt (up to 20 grams of sugar)
- Canned Soup (up to 15 grams of sugar)
- Anything Labeled “Fat-Free” (sometimes 2x the sugar of regular version)
Your Key Takeaway: Be sure to read the nutrition labels on everything you buy. Added sugars add up quick!