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Sources of hidden sugar that might surprise you

Few of us will say no to a sweet treat, but the regular consumption of too much sugar can wreak havoc with our health. And it’s lurking in products we may never suspect.

One small thing: Read the ingredient labels on food packaging. The list goes in descending order. If sugar appears in the first three items, try to source a less sugar-heavy product.

For many of us, sugar is our friend – it gives us a lift during that afternoon slump, a dinner isn’t quite complete without dessert, and celebrations just aren’t the same without delicious confectionary. And yes, we know too much sugar is bad for us, so we resist the very real temptation to have chocolate brownies for breakfast. But what if we’re eating way more than we realise? The hidden sugar in many foods – from cereal to bread to pasta sauce – could be pushing our sugar consumption to unhealthy heights.

Added sugars

It’s obvious that most chocolates, sweet treats, soft drinks and desserts contain a lot of sugar, but many people don’t realise that large quantities of sugar are also included in processed foods such as breakfast cereals, cereal bars, rusks and muffins.

The sugar we stir into or sprinkle over our food accounts for a tiny fraction of the added sugar we consume. If you really want to make a difference to your diet, you need to reduce the sugar you get from processed foods.

The same goes for certain foods that are marketed as health foods, such as smoothies, low-fat yoghurt, vitamin-enhanced waters and energy drinks, says dietitian and chef Kelly Scholtz. “I wouldn’t want people to cut out all of these foods, as some are a great source of other nutrients, but care should be taken with portion sizes.”

In addition, sugar is sugar, whether it’s brown, white, honey or agave syrup – there is no such thing as “healthy” sugar. While it’s no secret that soft drinks are loaded with sugar, you might be surprised to learn that fruit juices can also be a major source of added sugar, says PnP dietitian Juliet Fearnhead. This is particularly concerning among teenagers, who get up to 40% of their added sugar from soft drinks and energy drinks.

Even foods with naturally occurring sugars can contain high amounts of sugar in their concentrated forms. Scholtz warns, “Fruit juice is a good source of nutrients, but our intake should be limited to one small glass per day, preferably taken with meals to help prevent tooth decay.”

If you want to cut down on your sugar intake, read this article.

Foods that contain hidden sugar

Be sure to check the sugar content in these foods:

  • Cold drinks
  • Energy drinks
  • Flavoured water
  • Flavoured milk drinks
  • Drinking yoghurts
  • Cordials
  • Flavoured yoghurts
  • Fruit juices
  • Breakfast cereals and granolas
  • Cereal and energy bars
  • Muffins
  • Rusks
  • Bottled sauces
  • Pasta sauces
  • Vitamin water
  • Powdered drink mixes

If you have a question for our dietitians, click here, or to find a dietitian in your area, visit adsa.org.za. To get in touch with us, email healthhotline@pnp.co.za.