Sugarwise’s Suzanna Abraham reveals some foods that contain a bewildering amount of sugar and how to choose healthy alternatives.
The latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey made it clear that we need to reduce our ‘free sugars’ consumption. These are the sugars and sweeteners that need to be limited in the diet because they contribute to obesity and tooth decay. So, surely, reducing intake should be as simple as eating fewer cakes, biscuits and sweets, right? Unfortunately not, because foods that you may not associate with being sweet often contain a surprising amount of sugar. Here are ten common foods or drinks where sugar makes an unexpected appearance…
Many cooking sauces contain a sweetener to balance other flavours. For example, reducing the acidity of tomato-based sauces. Sugar has traditionally also been the sweetener of choice in Indian and Oriental cooking sauces, and even white sauces, along with ready meals, soups and baked beans.
Alternatives: Napolina No Added Sugar Smooth Bolognese Pasta Sauce; Patak’s Original Madras Paste; Heinz No Added Sugar Baked Beans
From ketchup to mustard, sugar is a common ingredient in condiments and dressings, often for the same reasons that it’s added to sauces. Watch out for lower-fat versions that can contain more sugar.
Alternatives: Real Good Tomato Ketchup; The Skinny Food Co Garlic Mayo
Although they’re considered a savoury snack, many crisps contain free sugars. It’s not just sweet flavours that you should be wary of. We challenge you to find some salt and vinegar crisps without added sugar!
Alternatives: Sweet and savoury Butterkist Microwave Popcorn varieties (higher in fibre too)
An easily-overlooked source of sugar is alcoholic drinks, with lagers generally being low and liquors generally higher. Amounts in wine and cider are lower in dry varieties. While spirits on their own contain trace amounts, the addition of mixers can significantly increase sugar content.
Alternatives: In terms of cancer (and other disease) risk, there is no safe level of alcohol consumption so aim to cut down by alternating with water or sugar-free soft drinks, and use sugar-free mixers.
Sugar is often used to accentuate the caramel brown colour in wholemeal bread, but you might not want to use up your daily quota on the slices around your sandwich filling.
Alternatives: Warburtons Wholemeal Medium loaf; most UK supermarket wholemeal pitta breads
Sugar lurks in cereals that don’t necessarily taste sweet. Just 30g of a Rice-Krispie-type cereal contains a similar amount of free sugars as a pink wafer biscuit. Even more shocking, the same portion of All Bran can contain more free sugars than a chocolate bourbon biscuit.
Alternatives: Shredded Wheat; Kellogg’s Organic Raisin Wheat Cereal; Porridge with Myprotein FlavDrops (e.g. toffee flavour); Scrambled eggs on Warburtons wholemeal toast
While the natural sugars in plain natural yoghurt don’t contribute to free sugars intake, the amount in flavoured varieties can account for almost 40% of the calories. Frozen yoghurts can be a source of free sugars, too. Be aware that flavoured organic yoghurts tend to be high in free sugars as well.
Alternatives: Activia No Added Sugar; Wheyhey ice cream
All the sugars in fruit juice are free, and orange juice can have more of these than cola. However, due to it being a good source of vitamin C, a 150ml portion is considered one of your 5-a-day.
Alternatives: Whole fruit is always a better choice than juice; Get More Vitamin Water is a sugar-free drink with added vitamins
Compared to a sugar-laden cookie, the humble rich tea, digestive or malted milk biscuit may seem like a safe option. However, even one digestive can contain almost 13% of a 4-year-old to 6-year-old child’s maximum sugar intake limit. ‘Light’ versions, though lower in fat, can often be higher in sugar.
Alternatives: Sugar-free biscuits such as Siro (from Sainsbury’s); Diablo (from Boots)
By now, it may not come as much of a surprise to you that even peanut butter has added sugar – some can contain up to five teaspoons in an average jar. Most supermarket own brands contain added sugar.
Alternatives: Meridian and Whole Earth peanut butters
Suzanna Abraham studied Nutrition at King’s College London and then completed a Masters by Research in Diabetes at Newcastle University. She worked on the National Diet & Nutrition Survey for over three years and is now a Nutrition Scientist at Sugarwise, the international authority for sugar-related claims on food and drink.
Want to learn more about how to control sugar in your diet? Check out our tips to beat sugar cravings here.