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“Hidden sugar” is the sugar that food conglomerates, chefs, juice makers, and baristas sneak into their products.
Even if you think you’re eating the “healthiest” foods, you’re probably consuming more sugar than you think…
Do you know how many grams of sugar you eat each day?
If you were to tally it up (and I encourage you to do so!), you might be shocked.
We all have moments when we crave sweet treats like ice cream, cookies, and candy. In this post, I’m not talking about those instances because the majority of us keep our sugary treats exactly that: treats on special occasions. However, here’s a startling fact: Even when you’re extra cautious and eat dessert sparingly, you still may be consuming an unhealthy amount of of hidden sugar.
Have a few extra pounds that you just can’t shake? Hidden sugar may be the culprit!
What is “hidden sugar”?
“Hidden sugar” is the sugar that food conglomerates, chefs, juice makers, and baristas sneak into their products. Often, labels on the sweetest offenders contain words like “skim,” “low-fat,” “made with natural fruit juice,” “all-natural,” “no added sugar,” etc., to confuse the average consumer: PEOPLE LIKE YOU AND ME!
At this point in the post, you may be thinking that sugar can’t really “hide” anymore since us consumers are so woke. Everywhere we go, we’re bombarded with Nutrition Facts, and the uptick in chronic disease, obesity, cancer, etc., has awakened us to the fact that sugar can wreak havoc on the body. Hasn’t sugar been properly villainized and exposed?
In response to your hypothetical thought, I’ll ask you to reconsider the first question of the post: “Do you know how many grams of sugar you eat each day?” If you’re fully aware of your sugar consumption and keep it to a bare minimum, then *applause* well done! If you haven’t ever taken the time to tally up your average daily intake, definitely do so ASAP.
My Own Hidden Sugar Wake-up Call
Let me tell ya… before I really understood or cared about hidden sugar, I was royally confused by all of the marketing ploys, but the worst part was that I didn’t know it at the time. Back then, my food choices on an average weekday looked something like this:
- Coffee—a medium nonfat latte
- Breakfast—a banana + an instant maple and brown sugar oatmeal packet
- Lunch—a peanut butter and jelly sandwich + a low-fat, fruit-flavored yogurt
- Snack—an apple + pretzels
- Dinner—a bowl of pasta topped with veggies, chicken, and tomato sauce + a side salad drizzled with fat-free honey dijon dressing
None of the above are offensively sweet, right? Possibly, you consume a very similar menu each day.
At the point in my life when I ate those exact foods on a daily basis, I was trying to be as healthy as possible. I made (what I thought were) smart meal choices, exercised, and got adequate sleep. I wasn’t consuming any outlandishly unhealthy foods like soda or fast food, and I didn’t even eat out that much. I was simply shopping at my local supermarket for products I deemed “good for me.”
Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that in one of my “healthy” days of eating I was consuming a whopping…92 grams of sugar!
92 grams = about 23 teaspoons of sugar. WHAT?! Again, I didn’t even drink a soda or eat a cookie on the average day, but I was still essentially hooked to a sugar IV.
Are you shocked? I was! I must admit that I did the math twice while typing this post because 1) let’s be honest…I’m not great at math, and 2) I didn’t believe that number could be true!
Let me break down my sugar math (just so you can double check. As I said…it’s not my strong subject!):
- 1 cup of nonfat milk (in latte) = 12g
- A banana = 14g
- A packet of instant flavored oatmeal = 12g
- 2 tablespoons of peanut butter = 3g
- 1 tablespoon of jelly = 10g
- A fruit-flavored yogurt = 7g
- A Pink Lady apple = 19g
- 1 cup of tomato sauce = 10g
- 2 tablespoons of fat-free honey dijon dressing = 5g
TOTAL = 92g
Now, consider this: If I were to have added just one outlandishly unhealthy item like a Coca-Cola, I’d have added another 44g of sugar to that day’s total…making the new total a whopping 136 grams of sugar.
See what I mean by hidden sugar? Things that seem healthy contain added sugar that really adds up.
Americans’ Sugar Intake: Then vs. Now
Check out this handy infographic published by Forbes in 2012: How Much Sugar are Americans Eating? (I know it’s outdated, but you get the point! Also, judging by those graphs, Americans’ average daily sugar consumption has likely risen since 2012, which is just terrifying.) In 1822, the average American consumed 45g of sugar every five days. As outlined above, I used to consume twice that amount in just one day! In 2012, the average American consumed 756g of sugar every five days, which means s/he consumed around 151g each day. Considering the amount of hidden sugar I used to eat in each of my meals, this statistic is not surprising.
So, I eat a lot of hidden sugar…what’s the big deal?
Many of the most knowledgeable and nutrition-centric scientists and doctors attribute our nation’s health crisis to increased sugar intake. In fact, some have gone so far as to say “the less sugar you eat in your lifetime, the healthier you’ll be.” (By the way, that’s a link to a great podcast episode. I highly recommend you listen to Mark Sisson’s thoughts!)
To summarize this Healthline.com article, these are the key reasons to avoid sugar:
- Added sugar is full of fructose; we do not need fructose to survive and should avoid it at all costs because it only leads to health problems.
- Sugar contains zero vitamins and/or nutrients.
- The liver turns fructose into fat, leading to fatty liver disease.
- Sugar harms cholesterol and causes insulin resistance, which leads to metabolic syndrome, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
- Sugar is not filling; in fact, it causes resistance to a hormone called leptin. Leptin resistance actually causes increased hunger. So, the more sugar you eat, the hungrier you’ll be. (I can vouch for that! I used to be staaaaarving all of the time.)
- Sugar is addictive.
If you’re still not convinced of added sugar’s harms, then check out That Sugar Film, a documentary in which Damon Gameau eats solely hidden sugar-containing foods and tracks the steady decline in his body composition and health. It’s incredibly eye-opening (and entertaining!).
Or, check out Drew Manning’s work. Manning is a fitness trainer who couldn’t understand why his clients weren’t losing more weight through exercise. He took matters into his own hands and decided to eat what they ate, the standard American diet (sometimes abbreviated “SAD”). This means he ate the normal items most people consume on a daily basis (like the ones I listed above) without thinking twice. Spoiler alert: He gained over 60 POUNDS in only 6 MONTHS! To read more, check out his book.
How can I avoid hidden sugar?
Honestly, in today’s world, this isn’t easy. Your local grocery store is jam-packed with processed foods that contain high amounts of added sugar, and all of them are in colorful packages that make “healthy” promises and require zero preparation! Eliminating foods that contain added sugar is tough at first, but it’s so worth it. Here are a few tips:
- Read labels! Possibly, chart your daily sugar consumption in the same way that I did above. Your results (like mine) may surprise you and motivate you to jump off the hidden sugar train!
- When reading labels, realize that sugar goes by many names: corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, invert sugar, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, raw sugar, sucrose, sugar syrup, cane crystals, cane sugar, crystalline fructose, evaporated cane juice, corn syrup solids, malt syrup. Don’t be fooled into thinking that evaporated cane juice is any healthier than high-fructose corn syrup; your body reacts (poorly!) to both.
- Shop the periphery of the supermarket or at farmer’s markets to buy whole foods. This will mean doing more food prep of your own, but it’s really not that difficult. Trust me! I am not a chef (or even a good cook) by any means, but I have gotten into the habit of prepping whole foods for myself.
- Avoid any foods that are marketed as “low-fat,” “low-sugar,” “healthy,” etc. If a label makes a promise, be skeptical. As the consumer gets wiser, food companies get smarter. When it seems as if they’re trying to sell you something…they are! These foods are often not only high in sugar, but they’re also high in refined carbohydrates and unpronounceable preservatives.
- Know that many foods we deem to be “healthy,” like fruit juice, are actually extremely unhealthy. Fruit juice labels make many “healthful” claims, but, in reality, fruit juice contains just as much sugar as a blatantly sweet drink like soda. Fruit juice is lacking the fiber that whole fruits provide, so the sugar from the juice causes an instant insulin spike. One delayed effect of constantly spiking insulin levels is insulin resistance, which can lead to a host of health issues (listed above).
- Reprogram your brain to think of fruit as “nature’s candy.” Sure, fruit is a lot healthier than fruit juice, soda, or processed sugary foods, but it’s still full of sugar and should be eaten sparingly. (Vegetables, on the other hand, should be eaten in abundance!) Check out this list to make the smartest fruit choices: 11 Best Low-Sugar Fruits.
- If/when your sugar cravings hit, try one of the following solutions:
One final note: When you begin to cleanse sugar from your diet, your body may go through withdrawal, especially if it’s programmed to run on 90+ grams of sugar each day! As mentioned above, sugar is addictive; your body reacts to it in a similar way that it’d react to nicotine or other drugs. So, if at first you have headaches and feel terrible, know that these symptoms are normal. Also, consider the symptoms a true sign that you were dependent on sugar, and pat yourself on the back for tackling your addiction!
Bottom line: Sugar is everywhere, even in “healthy” foods. Become a sugar sleuth to avoid hidden sugar and notice a remarkable difference in your weight, skin, energy level…and more!
⇒ To optimize every aspect of your health, visit My Favorite Things! There, you’ll find links to healthy packaged foods, toxin-free products, and overall wellness boosters.