10 surprisingly sugary foods

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Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
Ask Emma

20 June 2019

How much sugar should we really be having?

There's no denying that, in recent years, sugar has become a hot topic with the media and health experts, with the general consensus being that most of us are consuming far, far too much. The NHS recommends that the average adult in the UK should consume no more than 30g of added sugar a day but, unfortunately, many of us are exceeding this target.1

Part of the reason that sugar has become so prolific in our diets is because it often hides in surprising places – for example, here are the 10 surprising sugary foods I managed to find:

  • Low-fat yoghurt
  • Tomato ketchup
  • Vitamin water
  • Canned fruit
  • Nut butters
  • Cereals
  • Protein powders
  • Coleslaw
  • Salad dressings
  • Pre-bottled smoothies

Here, I'm going to explore these foods in more detail, discussing why they might be so sugary and recommending my own alternatives!

1. Low-fat yoghurt

This is one you've probably heard me mention before but, really, there's no underselling how cautious you should be around self-proclaimed, 'low-fat' alternatives. What such products lack in fat, they often more than make up for in refined sugar. Low-fat yoghurts are a prime example of this – one study by the British Medical Journal found that 55% of the low-fat yoghurts they examined contained up to 20g of sugar.2

My suggestion: If you really want to treat yourself to yoghurt, you really are best sticking to plain, organic yoghurts. These usually contain fewer added sugars and are, instead, rich in natural probiotic qualities. Greek yoghurt is another great choice as this is naturally lower in sugar and rich in protein. If you want to add some flavour, you could try topping your yoghurt with some fresh fruit!

2. Ketchup

The perfect partner with a plate of chips, here in the UK we do have an obsession with tomato ketchup. Unfortunately, this love affair doesn't have a happy ending for our blood glucose levels – on average, one tablespoon of ketchup contains approximately 4g of sugar. Depending on how much ketchup you like, this means you could be consuming up to 20g of sugar alongside your meal – that's around the same amount of sugar as a small chocolate bar!

3. Vitamin water

Here at A.Vogel, we're always banging on about the importance of drinking more water, so, why then, am I dismissing vitamin water? Surely this is a perfectly acceptable choice that's rich in nutrients? Well, as it turns out, vitamin water, especially if it's flavoured, will often contain artificial sweeteners and added sugar. Since you'll most likely be drinking in all this sugar on a more regular basis, vitamin water could easily contribute to issues such as high blood glucose levels and weight gain.

My suggestion: There's no substitute that's going to be better for you than plain water, so stick with what you know. While the taste might not appeal to everyone, you can add flavour yourself by infusing the water with fresh fruit – just check out our Lemon, Mint and Cucumber Detox Water for more inspiration! Or, alternatively, if you do want a drink that's enriched with vitamins and minerals, you could try our Balance Mineral Drink.
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4. Canned fruit

Fed up of fresh fruit going out of date too soon? Canned fruit probably seems like a sensible alternative that lasts a whole lot longer than fresh fruit. Unfortunately, while you might just get the same content of fruit, canned fruit tends to be rich in preservatives and sugar. Of course, this largely depends on what they are preserved in – if your fruit is canned alongside syrup, for example, then you could be getting an additional 16g of sugar. However, even if the can claims to contain 'no added sugar' you may still be getting a 6g intake.3

My suggestion: If you are going to opt for canned fruits, avoid those that have been preserved using syrup or 100% juice. Fresh, in my opinion, is always best, but if you are worried about the fruit going out of date, you could try freezing it instead and defrosting it as you need it.

5. Nut butters

Nut butters are definitely being touted as a great source of healthy fats and protein and, while I'm not about to dispute this opinion, as always, quality matters. Hazelnut butter, for example, is extremely popular but, unless you're opting for a natural, organic brand, you could wind up consuming a lot more added sugars than you'd initially bargained for. Again, sugar is often used as a preservative in some of the cheaper varieties of nut butter.

My suggestion: If you want to introduce nut butter into your diet, make sure you're using a reliable and organic brand that is free from added sugars and palm oil.

6. Cereal

The majority of us will kick-start our day with a bowl of cereal – alongside toast, it's one of the most common breakfast options in the world! While there's nothing inherently wrong with this habit, you do need to be aware of the type of cereals that you're eating. According to the British Heart Foundation, sugar-frosted cornflakes, unsurprisingly, contain 13% of your recommended daily sugar intake; but, what might be more surprising is that pre-packaged granola, usually considered to be a healthy option, may contain as much as 24g of sugar per serving!4

My suggestion: One of the things that really make breakfast cereals unique is the variety that's available – from muesli to porridge to cinnamon crunch to granola, there's plenty to choose from. This, fortunately, means that there are plenty of healthier, less sugary options for you to explore. Porridge, for example, is universally appreciated for its health benefits, or you could even try having a go at making your own granola if you want to experiment – our Orange & Vanilla Granola might be worth taking a look at here, if you need ideas!

7. Protein powders

Protein powders are no longer just the prerogative of gym enthusiasts – nowadays, we're all a bit more aware about the importance of getting more protein into our diets. Unfortunately, some protein powders don't just stick to what they say on the packet – often they're loaded with synthetic flavourings, colourings and preservatives. Sugar can also come into the equation here too, in a bid to help improve the taste. Harvard Health estimates that some protein powders could contain as much as 23g of added sugar per scoop!5

My suggestion: Once again, it comes down to quality. If you want a protein powder that isn't going to give you any unwanted extras, then you're going to need to do a little bit of detective work first. I'd start with visiting your local health food store – they should have a range of healthier protein powders for you to consider.

8. Coleslaw

Often served alongside salads or baked potatoes, coleslaw is a firm staple during the summer months when barbecues and picnics are everywhere. A combination of raw cabbage, carrot and mayonnaise, coleslaw isn't necessarily the top food you would think of in terms of sugar; however, depending on how it's made, it can be surprisingly sugary. Shop-bought coleslaw is the prime example here – one 50g tablespoon could contain 4g of sugar, which quickly adds up.6

My suggestion: There's nothing wrong with a side of coleslaw as the occasional treat but if you're consciously watching your sugar intake, you might want to try and make this dish yourself. This way, you know exactly what has gone into your coleslaw and can create your own twist! If you're after some ideas, please check our Simple Vegan Coleslaw recipe or Tangy Beet Slaw.

9. Salad dressing

Salads are generally considered a pretty safe option if you're after something quick and healthy, and you're right to think so. Salads are rarely an issue when it comes to your sugar intake, instead, what matters more, is what you add to the salad. Salad dressings could potentially be dousing your nice, crisp, nutritious salad in a wave of sugar. Some popular brands of pre-made salad dressings could contain up to 12g of added sugar.7

My suggestion: You'll be tired of hearing me say this by now, but I really can't hit it home enough – when in doubt, make it yourself! Salad dressings are fairly quick and easy to make but, if you want to keep things really simple, why not just drizzle your salad with some organic olive oil? Although some quick and easy store cupboard staples can jazz this up further; garlic, wholegrain mustard and red wine vinegar are some of my personal favourites.

10. Pre-bottled smoothie

Smoothies are a quick and simple way of increasing your daily fruit and veg intake, so it's hardly surprising that they're extremely popular. Unfortunately, the smoothie you pick off your supermarket shelf is unlikely to have the same benefits as the one you make at home. Sugar is often added during the manufacturing process which, when combined with natural sugars that fruit already contains, can have a pronounced impact on your blood glucose levels.

My suggestion: Try to avoid pre-bottled smoothies and, instead, blitz your own at home. Smoothies are notoriously quick and easy to make but, even if you don't feel like standing and chopping up fruit for five minutes, you can always use frozen fruit to make the process hassle-free. Here at A.Vogel, we have a range of smoothie recipes that you're welcome to try!








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