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Foods and Drinks That Are Surprisingly High in Sugar

Toni-Ann DiSantis

Foods and Drinks That Are Surprisingly High in Sugar

Eating too much sugar is really bad for your health.

It’s been linked to an increased risk of many diseases, including obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer.   Many people are now trying to minimize their sugar intake, but it’s easy to underestimate how much you’re actually consuming.  One of the reasons is that many foods contain hidden sugars, including some foods that you wouldn’t even consider to be sweet.  In fact, even products marketed as “light” or “low-fat” often contain more sugar than the regular versions.   The American Heart Association recommends that women limit their added sugar intake to 6 teaspoons per day, while men should limit their intake to 9 teaspoons.  A teaspoon of sugar contains 4 grams, so this amounts to 24 grams per day for women and 36 grams for men. Most people today eat much more than that.

Here are some foods and drinks that contain way more sugar than you would think.

 Low-Fat Yogurt

Yogurt can be a highly nutritious food. However, not all yogurt is created equal.   Like many other low-fat products, low-fat yogurts have sugar added to them to enhance flavor.   For example, a single cup (245 grams) of low-fat yogurt can contain up to 47 grams of sugar, which is 12 teaspoons. This is more than the daily limit for men and women in just a single cup of so-called “healthy” yogurt .  Furthermore, low-fat yogurt doesn’t seem to have the same health benefits as full-fat yogurt.   It’s best to choose full-fat, natural or Greek yogurt. Avoid yogurt that has been sweetened with sugar.

 BBQ Sauce 

BBQ sauce can make a tasty marinade or dip.  However, 2 tablespoons of it can contain around 14 grams of sugar, or over 3 teaspoons .   In fact, up to 40% of the weight of BBQ sauce may be pure sugar .  If you are liberal with your servings, this makes it easy to consume a lot of sugar without meaning to.   To make sure you aren’t getting too much, check the labels and choose the sauce with the least amount of added sugar.  And remember to watch your portions.

Fruit Juice

Like whole fruit, fruit juice contains some vitamins and minerals.  However, despite seeming like a healthy choice, these vitamins and minerals come with a large dose of sugar and very little fiber.   It usually takes a lot of fruit to produce a single glass of fruit juice, so you get much more sugar in a glass of juice than you would get by eating whole fruit. This makes it easy to consume a large amount of sugar quickly.   In fact, there can be just as much sugar in fruit juice as there is in a sugary drink like Coke. The poor health outcomes that have been convincingly linked to sugary soda may be linked to fruit juices too.   It’s best to choose whole fruit and minimize your intake of fruit juices.

Protein Bars

Protein bars are a popular snack.  Foods that contain protein have been linked with increased feelings of fullness, which can help with weight loss.  This has led people to believe that protein bars are a healthy snack.  While there are some healthier protein bars on the market, many contain around 30 grams of added sugar, making them similar to a candy bar.   When choosing a protein bar, read the label and avoid those that are high in sugar. You can also eat a high-protein food like yogurt instead.

Flavored Coffees

Flavored coffee is a popular trend, but the amount of hidden sugars in these drinks can be staggering.   A large flavored coffee in some coffeehouse chains can contain up to 25 teaspoons of sugar.  That’s equivalent to 100 grams of added sugar per serving, or nearly 3 times the amount you would get from a 12-oz (340 ml) can of Coke.   Considering the strong link between sugary drinks and poor health, it’s probably best to stick to coffee without any flavored syrups or added sugar


Granola is often marketed as a low-fat health food, despite being high in both calories and sugar. The main ingredient in granola is oats. Plain rolled oats are a well-balanced cereal containing carbs, protein, fat and fiber.  However, the oats in granola have been combined with nuts and honey or other added sweeteners, which increases the amount of sugar and calories.  In fact, 100 grams of granola contains nearly 400 calories and over 6 teaspoons of sugar.  If you like granola, try choosing one with less added sugar or make your own. You can also add it as a topping to fruit or yogurt, rather than pouring a whole bowl.

Bottled Smoothies

Blending fruits with milk or yogurt in the morning to make yourself a smoothie can be a great way to start your day.  However, not all smoothies are healthy.  Many commercially produced smoothies come in large sizes and can be sweetened with things like fruit juice, ice cream or syrup, which increases their sugar content.  Some of them contain ridiculously high amounts of calories and sugar, containing over 96 grams, or 24 teaspoons of sugar in a single serving.  For a healthy smoothie, check the ingredients and make sure you watch your portion size.