8 foods surprisingly high in sugar

As a nation we love our sugar.  In fact we love it so much Americans average 475 calories a day from added sugars, or 123 grams – the equivalent of 30 teaspoons of sugar a day.  The recommended maximum amount from the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines is no more than 10% of total calories to come from sugar equivalent to just 50 grams of added sugar based on a 2,000-calorie daily diet.  The age group having the highest intake as a percent of calories coming from sugar is children, adolescents, and young adults. 

The obvious and major sources of this added sugar come from the usual culprits – soft drinks, fruit drinks, sweetened coffee and tea, energy drinks, and flavored waters.  Other common sources most of us assume to be high in sugar include cookies, cake, brownies, pie, doughnuts, sweet rolls, ice cream and other frozen desserts. 

But what about other less conspicuous sources of added sugars?  All those foods containing more sugar than we realize contributing to our sugar stockpile over the course of a day?

Until the new Nutrition Facts Labels are rolled out sometime in 2017, it is difficult to know just how much sugar is added to a food product.  Unless there is fruit and/or milk (both which contain naturally occurring sugars) in the food product, you can assume the amount listed of sugar on the label is what has been added to that food.

Listed are 8 foods you may be surprised that are higher in sugar than you assumed.  Keep in mind that one teaspoon of granulated sugar equals 4 grams of sugar. For example, 16 grams of sugar listed on a food product is equal to about 4 teaspoons of granulated sugar. 

1.      Tomato sauces

Canned tomato sauce and tomato based pasta sauces are likely to be laden with sugar.  A half-cup serving of popular brands can contain between 15-20 grams of sugar.  Best bet is to make your own tomato sauce where you’re in charge of what ingredients go in it. Or, if using canned tomato sauce, at least add some healthy ingredients such as diced onions, garlic, and peppers.

2.      Fat-free salad dressings

When the label says “reduced fat or fat-free” guess what they replaced the fat with – sugar.  Many bottled salad dressings can contain up to 3 grams per tablespoon which is about the same amount as a regular soft drink.  Salad dressings made from scratch puts you in control of using heart healthy unsaturated oils like olive or canola, and getting flavor from spices and vinegars instead of sugar.

3.      Ketchup and barbecue sauces

Watch out how much ketchup you load up a burger with – one tablespoon contains about 3.6 grams of sugar.  Barbecue sauces tend to be even worse with about 8 grams per tablespoon.  Go easy on the ketchup by adding just enough to flavor a food but barbeque sauce can be made from scratch where you control the amount of sugar added. 

4.      Baked beans

If you were eating just the beans by themselves, it’s a nutritious food.  But add in the sugar factor and you’re staring at 20 grams of sugar per cup in sweetened-canned varieties of baked beans. 


5.      Granola bars

Be careful here – granola bars have a “health halo” around them but quite a few are really not much better than a candy bar.  When chocolate or candy pieces are added, the sugar content can easily rise to 20 grams or even higher per bar.  Look for granola bars with no more than 8 grams of sugar per bar. 

6.      Smoothies

What doesn’t seem more like a healthy, nutritious food than a smoothie?  They can be but it all depends on ingredients used in them.  Commercially prepared smoothies can be loaded with as much as 38 grams of sugar (9 ½ teaspoons) and 230 calories in a single-serving.  The safest thing to do is make your own from scratch using milk, plain nonfat yogurt, and fresh or frozen fruit making it a healthier beverage.

7.       Yogurt

A good source of protein, calcium and vitamin D, you wouldn’t consider yogurt to be loaded with sugar.  Think again.  It’s not uncommon for some of the yogurts containing fruit-on-the-bottom to have as much as 24 grams of sugar per container.  Opt instead for plain, unflavored Greek or regular yogurt adding fresh or pureed fruit such as strawberries, blueberries, or raspberries.

8.      Breakfast cereals

We should by now know to walk on by sugar-coated cereals brimming with too much sugar.  But even the “healthy” sounding cereals like oat brans, oat and wheat squares and granolas can be deceptive as to the sugar kick they contain with as much as 10-15 grams of sugar per serving.  Consider steel-cut oats or oatmeal prepared with water or low-fat milk.  Once cooked, add natural peanut or almond butter, a dash of cinnamon and chopped apples for a good source of protein and fiber with only natural sugar.