In today’s modern world of processed foods and heavily marketed “healthy diet” foods, most of our foods can contain sugar that we might not be immediately aware of. These foods can contain hidden sugars in amounts that are much higher than their natural counterparts. For example, processed honey often contains higher sugar content than raw honey. In a similar way, it’s not just hidden sugars but artificial sweeteners that pose a health risk. “Diet” foods often replace sugars with forms of chemical-based artificial sweeteners that can often be worse for you than processed sugar. So, here are five ways that you can identify unhealthy hidden sugars.
- Read the label
Now, this might sound like common sense but it’s something that’s often overlooked. In most countries, packaged food is required to carry a nutrition facts somewhere on the label. Sugars are usually listed below carbohydrates and there is usually no differentiation between natural and processed sugars in the listed amount. So, the amount you read is likely to be the total amount of sugar in the product. Be sure to check the serving size that is quoted on the label. Since it’s not standardised between different brands and products, you may sometimes see numbers that are higher or lower than you might expecting.
- Know their names
Reading the ingredients list can also seem like a good idea if you’re on the lookout for hidden sugars in your food. However, in many food products, sugars are named according to their chemical or scientific names. This can make it hard for many people to determine what additives might be in their food. Thankfully, most of us now have smartphones and internet access so it’s possible to simply look up the names of ingredients that we don’t understand. Common forms of added sugar are named things such as lactose, fructose, sucrose, corn syrup or cane syrup.
- Swap sweets with fruits
It stands to reason that candies and other sweet food products are more likely to contain processed sugar than natural ingredients. So, the simplest solution for managing a sweet tooth is to avoid sweet food altogether. Whole fruits can still contain sugar but this is typically in the form of fructose, a natural sugar. Natural sugars are still forms of sugar but they are much healthier for you since they are simple sugars, instead of complex sugars which are hard to break down in the body and result in potentially harmful by-products when consumed in excessive quantities.
- Cut down on sauces
What many people may not know is that sauces and salad dressings can contain lots of unhealthy additives. Barbecue sauce, for example, can contain six grams of sugar or more per tablespoon. Even Thousand Island salad dressing can contain 2.4 grams of sugar or more per tablespoon. So, to avoid taking in unnecessary calories and added sugar, cut down sauces and dressings.
- Have multigrain cereals for breakfast
Breakfast cereals are among the easiest home breakfasts you can make but your choice of cereal could be adding a lot of complex sugars to your daily diet. The obvious sweetened cereals include most of the cereals aimed at children. Cereals such as the colourful, fruit or chocolate-flavoured varieties are usually high in sugar with little other nutritional value. Instead, look for cereals that contain whole grains and no additional flavourings such as chocolate or honey. Additionally, avoid those with dried fruit since they usually are preserved in some way and contain added sugar for flavour. You can instead add your own fresh fruits, yoghurt and other toppings to your cereal for taste.
Added sugars are, unfortunately, a sign of the modern times. However, by understanding the different types of sugars and how to identify them, it’s possible to avoid unknowingly consuming added sugars. A healthy balanced diet is still important to maintain and simply cutting out sugars on its own is not likely to have any noticeable impact without first balancing your intake of protein, healthy fats, sodium and minerals.