5 Everyday Foods That Have More Sugar Than You Might Have Thought
On average, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans consume about 77 pounds of sugar each year. That’s an amount, I think we can all agree, that qualifies as a lot. Over the last few decades, much has been made of the havoc that excessive amounts of sugar can wreak on a body, contributing to illnesses from diabetes to obesity to heart disease. A new study from the University of New South Wales finds that heavy childhood sugar consumption may impact brain development in the same way as trauma and abuse, which can have lifelong behavioral and psychological effects. And researchers from the University of Texas recently announced findings that suggest sugar may even play a role in helping cancer cells spread.
For all these reasons and probably more, we’re constantly advised to watch our sugar intake—a thing that’s much easier said than done.
Sugar lurks in places you don’t expect it. We all know what we’re getting into when we get fries with that, or drink Big Gulps, or polish off a bag of Oreos. But what about the sugars hiding out in supposedly healthy foods, sneaking around behind labels that shout “organic” and “low fat”? Or brands we grew up with that mask their sugar-filled ingredient lists with savory comfort food flavors? Not to mention the foods we already knew had plenty of sugar, but not that much sugar, jeez.
The World Health Organization used to advise us to keep our consumption of added sugars—that is, those that aren’t naturally occurring in foods—to 10 percent of all calories consumed. WHO recently halved that to 5 percent. The American Heart Association has long counseled women to limit added sugars to six teaspoons a day, and men to nine teaspoons. Adhering to that means knowing where sugar might be unexpectedly found. To help, here are a few foods that contain more sugar than you probably thought.
There are lots of reasons yogurt perennially ranks near the top of healthy food lists, getting a bump when some faddish version appears, like Greek yogurt a few years ago. But depending on the kind of yogurt you’re eating, you might unwittingly be taking in quite a bit of sugar. Chobani’s nonfat plain and whole milk plain both contain just 4 grams of sugar in a single serving, which is pretty great. But those with fruit on the bottom, like the apricot, black cherry and blueberry kinds, contain anywhere from 15 to 17 grams of sugar in just a 5.3-ounce container. The whole milk honey and whole milk vanilla varieties have a whole 20 grams of sugar in just one serving.
Yoplait recently lowered the sugar content of its original yogurts, but there’s still as much as 18 grams of sugar in its 6-ounce strawberry, pineapple and cherry orchard flavors. And a 6-ounce Stonyfield Smooth & Creamy Lowfat French Vanilla has 21 grams of sugar. A chocolate fudge Pop Tart has just 18 grams of sugar. Just the messenger here.
2. Salad dressing.
We like to think that because salads are green and contain lots of vegetables, short of covering them in hot fudge, you can pretty much add anything and still count it as a healthy meal. Not so! Lots of bottled salad dressings basically make sugar one of the final ingredients in your dish. Light and fat-free dressings often make up for what they lack in fat (and flavor) with sugar and salt.
3. Dried fruit.
There’s an old Mitch Hedberg one-liner that goes, “Rice is great if you're really hungry and want to eat two thousand of something.” Dried fruit is sort of like that. Dehydrated fruits retain their sugar, only concentrated in a much smaller morsel. So, while one cup of grapes has about 15 grams of sugar, a cup of raisins has nearly 86 grams. One hundred grams of raw banana has 12.23 grams of sugar, while 100 grams of dried bananas has 47.3 grams of sugar. Those little fruit husks taste so deliciously sweet for a reason.
4. Canned soups.
You should probably read the label on canned soups if you’re worried about your salt intake, and while you’re looking, check out the sugar content as well. Surprisingly, canned soups sometimes contain as much sugar as dessert. Case in point: a can of Campbell’s Healthy Request Classic Tomato Soup has 20 grams of sugar, as much as two Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Campbell’s, like most brands, also sells multiple versions of its soups with reduced fat and calories, most of which have much less sugar as well.
5. Starbucks drinks.
What gave away how unhealthy lots of Starbucks drinks are—the whipped cream topping or the hot caramel sauce pooling in the bottom of the cup? I’m pretty sure we all know that Starbucks’ specialty drinks have plenty of sugar, and yet, I’m here to tell you that we were not even close. A UK group called Action on Sugar tested 131 drinks from several chain cafes and restaurants, and seven Starbucks drinks took up nearly all the top slots where sugar is concerned. The number-one spot went to its Hot Mulled Fruit (grape with chai, orange and cinnamon venti), which reportedly has 99 grams of sugar a serving. That’s 25 teaspoons, enough to make your teeth hurt as you read this.
Starbucks issued a statement in response: "Earlier this year we committed to reduce added sugar in our indulgent drinks by 25 percent by the end of 2020. We also offer a wide variety of lighter options, sugar-free syrups and sugar-free natural sweetener and we display all nutritional information in-store and online.” Which seems like a really long-winded way of saying, Duh.