Dangerous Hidden Sugars: How to Avoid Them

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Picture of sugar - Hidden Sugars Are Fueling Chronic DiseaseHidden sugars are everywhere.

Sugar plays an influential role in the development of chronic disease, so it’s important to realize how prevalent it is.

Even many health-conscious people are eating significant amounts of sugar without realizing.

This article will explain the surprising places you’ll find hidden sugars, why they are harmful, and how to avoid them.

Hidden Sugars in Everyday Food

Sneaky sources of sugar are everywhere; it hides in supposedly healthy foods and in places you wouldn’t expect.

To give you an idea of how widespread sugar is:

  • Sugar is found in 74% of packaged foods found in supermarkets
  • It is disguised in ingredient labels under at least 70 different names
  • The maximum recommended limit by the World Health Organization is 25 grams (1).

And the problem is: these hidden sugars are very harmful.

There’s a myth that sugar is just “empty calories” and that it might cause weight gain if we eat it in excess.

However, studies show that sugar increases the risk for serious chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. And that risk is independent of weight gain (2, 3).

In other words, you don’t have to be overweight to be in danger, and sugar causes harm even if you are slim.

Key Point: Sugar is widespread; it’s in almost every food product and ‘hidden sugars’ are prevalent in processed foods.

72 Alternate Names For Sugar

Picture of boy with candy - alternate names for sugar

It’s surprising how many sweet foods don’t contain the word ‘sugar’ on their label.

The reason why is because foods often contain “hidden sugars” that are disguised under alternate names.

So, to help you spot them here are 72 different names for sugar, showing how the sweet stuff hides in labels.

Agave Nectar Agave syrup
Amber sugar crystals Barbados cane sugar
Barley malt sugar Barley malt syrup
Beet sugar Blue agave syrup
Brown rice sugar Brown sugar
Cane juice Cane juice crystals
Cane juice solids Cane sugar
Caramel Carob syrup
Castor sugar Coconut palm sugar
Coconut sugar Confectioner’s sugar
Corn sweetener Corn syrup
Corn syrup solids Crystalline glucose
Dahlia syrup Date sugar
Dehydrated cane juice Demerara cane sugar
Dextrose Evaporated cane juice
Fructose Fruit juice
Fruit juice concentrate Glucose
Glucose solids Golden sugar
Golden syrup Granulated sugar
Grape juice concentrate HFCS
High-fructose corn syrup Honey
Icing sugar Invert sugar
Light brown soft sugar Maize syrup
Malt syrup Maltodextrin
Maltose Maple syrup
Molasses Muscovado
Nib sugar Organic sugar
Palm sugar Panela
Panocha Pearl sugar
Piconcillo Powdered cane sugar
Raw cane juice Raw honey
Raw sugar Rice syrup
Sorghum syrup Sucrose
Syrup Table sugar
Tapioca syrup Treacle
Turbinado sugar Yellow sugar

No Such Thing as “Healthy Sugar”

The first thing to remember is that no matter what the source, the same two components make sugar: fructose and sucrose (4).

And your body doesn’t care from where this fructose and sucrose comes.

Whether it’s organic, from a tree, or refined from grapes – it’s all sugar, and it has the same biological effect.

Just because a label says ‘organic’ or the name of a fruit, it doesn’t make sugar healthy.

The video below explains perfectly:

Key Point: Processed sugar is hiding in plain sight, and it hides under at least 72 different names.

Sneaky Sources of Hidden Sugar: 10 Common Foods 

Not until we realize how pervasive sugar is can we start to cut it out of our diet.

For instance, recent studies show that about 74% of packaged foods contain sugar (5).

With this in mind, here are 10 of the worst culprits when it comes to hidden sugar–and most of them are savory foods.

Cereal

While most people know frosted flakes and fruit loops are full of the white stuff, the “healthy” cereals contain a significant amount too.

For example, Quaker Granola contains 26g sugar per 100g (6.5 teaspoons).

Healthy Replacement: Breakfast omelet.

Picture of Salad DressingSalad dressings

One of the most surprising sources of hidden sugar is a salad.

For one thing, many people automatically equate the word “salad” with healthy.

However, salads tend to be full of dressings which contain vegetable oil and large quantities of corn syrup.

As an illustration, Brianna’s Blush Wine Vinaigrette contains 14g sugar per 2 tablespoon serving. In other words, it’s about 50% sugar by weight.

Healthy Replacement: Extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Yogurt

Unfortunately, despite having a healthy reputation, 95% of the yogurts on store shelves contain a pile of sugar.

One of the worst offenders is Yoplait Original, which contains 18g sugar per small container.

Healthy Replacement: Unprocessed, pure Greek yogurt.

Smoothies

Smoothies tend to be high in natural sugars, but some are okay occasionally. For example, pureed berries are very low in sugars and pretty healthy.

That said, most of the smoothies on the market use high sugar fruits such as banana and even then, they still add extra sugar.

Some recent research in the UK found that the average smoothie contains 13g sugar per 100ml – a huge amount. A typical 500ml bottle would include 65 grams of sugar (or 16 teaspoons).

Healthy Replacement: Make your own – blend an avocado and some berries.

Picture of a sports drinkSports drinks

Despite marketing pushing them as a healthy drink and the associations with exercise, sports drinks are little more than sugar water.

Vitamin Water is an excellent example, and despite the health-washing of the product, it contains 31g sugar per bottle (8 teaspoons).

Sports drinks and soda are not entirely different.

Healthy Replacement: Water or milk.

Soups

Soup is a traditional, hearty meal full of nutrients–unless you buy it from a store that is.

Full of vegetable oil, flavorings, and sugar; Heinz soup sure isn’t the stuff grandma made.

In fact, thanks to the addition of HFCS, a small 10oz can of Campbell’s tomato soup contains 24g sugar (6 teaspoons).

Healthy Replacement: Homemade soup; quality ingredients, better taste and better for you.

Sauces For Pasta and Rice

Pasta sauces are another of the most sugary foods around and, surprisingly, a jar of Dolmio Bolognese has 34g sugar–8.5 teaspoons.

Healthy Replacement: Make your own; tomato puree, herbs, salt, and pepper. Simple!

Marinated Meats

Meat is one food that contains no carbs — unless you’re eating out, in which case sometimes it’s swimming in corn syrup. Ribs are especially likely to contain a large amount of sugar.

Healthy Replacement: Just plain meat – it tastes good enough by itself.

Picture of dried fruit Dried Fruit

Dried fruit still has the vitamins of regular fruit, but not the water content. As a result, dried fruit is concentrated sugar.

It does still have some benefits, but it’s very easy to overdo it.

Additionally, many producers put extra added sugar in to make it even sweeter.

Healthy Replacement: Fresh fruit.

Coffee Drinks

Coffee drinks are one of the most shocking sources of hidden sugars.

As an example, if you opt for a venti size white chocolate mocha from Starbucks, you’ll be downing 18 teaspoons of sugar (about 72g).

Healthy Replacement: Americano or latte.

Frozen Meals

In addition to other questionable ingredients, the vast majority of frozen meals, ready meals, and TV dinners all contain added sugar.

Healthy Replacement: Good old fashioned home cooking.
Key Point: Sugar is ubiquitous and it’s not only in the typical idea of sweet foods; savory foods are full of hidden sugars.

How to Avoid Hidden Sugar

Picture of a woman who wants to avoid hidden sugar

The quickest and easiest way to avoid hidden sugar is to prioritize single, whole ingredient foods in your diet.

A piece of steak, an avocado, or a handful of berries all have no ingredients list.

And if you’re already eating an LCHF, keto, or paleo diet then you probably know about this already.

But even if you’re eating a high carb diet and love cereal, then the same rules apply; for example, oats are much better than Froot Loops.

The biggest problem with any eating plan is that most people are eating massive amounts of sugar, refined carbs, and vegetable oils.

All of these foods have close links to chronic disease; remove them, and you’ll be healthier, no matter what your dietary preference is.

And should you not be ready to give up processed foods, check the ingredients label carefully for sources of hidden sugar.

Key Point: Make real whole foods a priority. The only “ingredients” foods such as meat, vegetables, fish, fruit, and dairy have are beneficial nutrients.

How Hidden Sugars Are Fueling Chronic Disease

Picture of chronic disease theme Firstly, the harms of sugar depend on the consumption level, on a sliding scale.

But remember: even though a little sugar might not cause significant harm, it’s still an entirely unessential ingredient that provides no nutritional benefit.

However, the real problem is that the majority of people are eating far too much sugar. And hidden dietary sugars are fueling the skyrocketing rates of chronic disease.

While sugar has links to a multitude of chronic illness, this article will take a closer look at the following:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Type 2 diabetes

These chronic diseases are all rapidly increasing in prevalence, and they all have a strong metabolic link.

Alzheimer’s Disease

In recent times, the idea of Alzheimer’s disease being ‘type 3 diabetes’ is picking up steam.

Several studies over the past few years suggest that this chronic disease is insulin resistance of the brain.

And there are hypotheses that the cause may be related to chronic hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), progressing insulin resistance, and advanced glycation end products (6, 7).

Now, if we look at the relationship between sugar and these conditions, then we can see that:

  • High-sugar diets are likely to increase the risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease (8)
  • Sugar consumption results in large spikes in blood glucose levels, and higher blood glucose is associated with increased risk of dementia (10, 11)
  • When combining with proteins, fructose can produce large amounts of advanced glycation end products (12)

Worryingly, deaths due to all-cause dementia doubled between 2000 and 2015 (13)

Picture of Cancer Symbol - pink ribbonCancer

A wide range of studies exist showing the links between dietary sugar intake and cancer risk, and the evidence looks strong:

  • Studies indicate that cancer has a preference for glucose as fuel for cell growth (14)
  • Pancreatic cancers appear to prefer fructose to grow. As a result, the modern diet full of high-fructose corn syrup is far from ideal (15, 16)
  • The Nurses Study, featuring over 170,000 participants, shows that hyperinsulinemia (consistently elevated blood levels of insulin) is a significant risk factor for colorectal cancers. Sugars and refined carbohydrates closely predict insulin secretion (17)

Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular disease is the world’s biggest killer, resulting in more than 54% of global deaths in 2015 (13).

Not until we improve our global diet will we see changes in this trend, which is only expected to increase in prevalence.

  • High carbohydrate–specifically sugar–consumption significantly raises triglycerides and lowers HDL levels. The HDL-triglyceride ratio is one of the most reliable cardiovascular risk markers and ideally, HDL should be high and triglycerides low (18).
  • Replacing dietary saturated fat with carbohydrate increases smaller LDL particles, which are thought to be more damaging (19).
  • A large prospective cohort study from 2014 showed a “significant link between added sugar and increased cardiovascular mortality” (20).

Picture of a diabetes blood sugar meterType 2 Diabetes

Perhaps the fastest growing chronic disease of all is type 2 diabetes. It’s also a disease that shares a close link to diet, and sugar in particular.

Here are some stats (21):

  • 9.3% (29.1 million people) of the American population is chronically ill with diabetes.
  • As of 2012, 86 million adults aged 20 or over have received a prediabetes diagnosis.
  • There has been nearly a four-fold increase in diabetes prevalence in three decades. Back in 1980, 108 million people had diabetes; that figure had increased to 422 million by 2014.

This dietary related illness has a range of studies supporting a link to sugar:

  • A review of prospective cohort studies shows a link between sugary beverages and type 2 diabetes. Urging a focus on reducing sugar intake, the authors note that “rapidly absorbed sugars” may be associated with increased risk of type 2 diabetes (22).
  • Reducing fructose/sugar intake to less than 5% of total calories improves glucose sensitivity. Also, this amount decreases the prevalence of diabetes (23).
Key Point: Sugar has extensive links to chronic disease. For this reason, we need to reduce our sugar intake before we can control rising dietary related diseases.

Health Promotion and Disease Prevention

Generally speaking, most people know how harmful sugar can be and try to limit it.

The sad thing is that the majority don’t realize the huge amounts of hidden sugar they are consuming every day.

For a good example of what “hidden sugar” means, take a look at this jar of jam:

Picture showing "no added sugar" jam
(Source)

Apparently, it contains “no added sugar.”

By this, the manufacturer means that they add a significant amount of concentrated grape juice to a totally different fruit and make a jam that is 52% sugar.

And apparently, that isn’t added sugar.

While many people recognize that grape juice concentrate is a form of sugar, there are also people who will trust the “no added sugar” label.

Is a Sugar Tax the Key?

We often hear sugar taxes mentioned in the media as a way to control sugar consumption, but is a tax the key?

Personally, I feel that educating consumers about the dangers of hidden sugar is the most important thing we can do.

Mixed messages coming from industry-funded studies make this difficult, though.

Here’s an interesting fact for you: Out of 27 industry-funded studies investigating the link between sugar and diabetes, only 1 found evidence of a link.

In contrast, from 33 independent studies–with no industry sponsorship–every single one found a link (24).

Final Thoughts

To sum up, the vast majority of people are consuming far too much sugar. We’re doing this every day, and it’s making us chronically ill.

Hidden sugars in food certainly don’t help, so try to make yourself aware of the different names for sugar out there.

And pass on the message: if your friends or family don’t realize how much sugar they’re eating, try to educate them.

It’s the only way we’ll cut our sugar intake down and live a healthier life.

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