Sugar is ubiquitous in our food supply – we are surrounded by it and drowning in it. Learn to read labels and know precisely what you are looking for, and you will be able to navigate the turbulent world of hidden sugar.
We all know what crystalline sugar looks like, so it’s no problem avoiding this, as well as syrups, malts, sugar-coated products and sugar-added products. However it’s the ‘hidden’ sugar which masquerades under other names we need to be aware of.
But first, please be aware that sugar is a master of disguise – it hides under many different names! Some of these names have been marketed as ‘healthy’, like agave or fructose. Don’t be fooled – these are two of the worst forms of sugar on the planet. See side box to discover a few more of the names sugar can masquerade as.
When trying to avoid hidden sugar you may want to consider the following:
- Eating whole, real food as it appears in nature – not in a packet, bottle or wrapper – is the easiest way to avoid hidden sugar. The sugar that does occur in nature for the most part is in pretty small quantities, and providing you don’t overdose on fruit, you should be able to get away with very little ‘hidden’ sugar.
- Avoid processed food – this is paramount if you really are intent on avoiding not only hidden sugar, but toxic oils and chemicals too. Cooking your food from scratch should not be a chore – it should be an absolute necessity and completely non-negotiable. It’s the way to love yourself and your family – by nourishing your bodies to the best of your ability with nature’s bounty – you are worth the extra trouble. Eat food your grandmother’s grandmother would recognise!
- Learn to read labels on those items you absolutely feel you must buy (tomato paste, tinned tomatoes, tinned sardines, etc.). We all need a few stand-bys in the grocery cupboard, but they should be there to complement the fresh food we make. Therefore, when buying them, read labels and purchase the purest ones you can.
- Switch from the convenience lifestyle of cereals for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch and a microwave meal for supper. By reading labels, you empower yourself with the knowledge of what goes into these food-like products which pass for food – you may realise the harm you are doing to yourself by not eating real, whole food. Also consider that the carbohydrates you eat become sugar in the bloodstream, your body doesn’t know the difference between sugar from a slice of bread and added sugar in your tea.
FOODS TO BE WARY OF
The prime culprits in terms of hidden sugars occur in processed food or food which is not in its natural state but has had something else done to it. Some to watch out for include:
Not only are there added hidden sugars in cereals, but by extrapolating the carbohydrate content of the cereals (or any foods for that matter) you will find out the true amount of sugar your body receives. The way to find out how much sugar is in food is to look at the carbohydrate reading on the nutritional panel on the side (usually very small writing). Let’s say it’s 20 g per portion of glycaemic carbohydrate (which means the fibre has already been subtracted from the total, leaving you with straight carbs) and divide this number by 4 for the number of teaspoons of sugar you will receive – in this case it will be 5 teaspoons. This then is the ‘effective’ amount of sugar which will go into your bloodstream. Some people divide by 5, but the gold standard is 4. So 20 ÷ 4 = 5 teaspoons of sugar. This total carb count includes the added sugar so this method is very reliable.
Terrifyingly, an average ‘healthy’ breakfast of an orange juice, piece of toast, cereal with milk and an apple could easily provide you with over 25 to 35 equivalent teaspoons of sugar just for breakfast, without adding any sugar yourself. It’s not the fat content we should be worrying about, it’s the sugar. Dr Peter Bruckner, a leading sports scientist in Australia, reckons the hidden sugars in breakfast cereals are partially responsible for the 280 diabetes diagnoses every day in Australia. We have an enormous problem here with an exploding diabetes crisis; it’s not confined to Australia.
Energy drinks are among the worst, but if you believe that having fruit juice is any better than your favourite fizzy drink, think again. Millilitre for millilitre they are the same regarding sugar content – anywhere from 9 to 16 teaspoons of sugar. Most of the carbohydrates in soft drinks are pure sugar.
Health bars/sports protein bars
This is really scary – the amount of hidden sugar under various different names is quite alarming, to say nothing of all the other additives. Most will give you between 6 and 11 teaspoons of sugar – some much more.
Breads and baked items are amazing hiding places for sugar! Let’s look at a few, and I encourage you to look up online or look at bread packets next time you are in the store – be prepared for a shock. Sugar appears in foods we never associate with needing extra sugar.
There are 38 g glycaemic carbohydrate per 100 g in a well-known white bread make (2 slices = 80 g) therefore per slice you are getting around 4 teaspoons of sugar, 8 teaspoons for 2 slices. Who eats just one slice?
- Brown bread can give you around 3.5 teaspoons of sugar per slice
- Low GI brown seed bread per serving has 31 g = 7.75 teaspoons sugar
- 100% rye per slice has 22 g = 5.5 teaspoons
Other bakers of brown breads include 69 g to 75 g per serving (17.25+ teaspoons sugar!) and more. Do your homework. We all know sweet baked items are a disaster sugar-wise. Some muffins can house up to 16 teaspoons of sugar – all the more reason to make your own so you know what is going into it. I won’t even mention koeksisters…
You might be shocked to see that the following products are also full of hidden sugars:
- Sauces like tomato sauce (check the labels)
- Salad dressings
- Soup mixes
- Baked beans
- Tinned fish in tomato sauce
- Yogurts of every kind
- Sandwich spreads
- Frozen foods
- Processed food/ready meals
- Peanut butter
- Even mince, bacon and biltong.
You need to be a food detective to navigate the food aisles these days. Be comforted though, by sticking to food as it appears in nature (i.e. a piece of real meat, fresh vegetables, real butter, etc.) you will never go wrong. Avoid the ready-made stuff and make your own for safety. Bon appétit!