12 Sources of Sneaky Sugar in Your Diet

Is your "healthy" diet loaded with hidden sweeteners?

February 27, 2015
One Nation, Under Sugar

The average American eats 26 five-pound bags of added sugar every year, and it's not your sweet tooth that's to blame. Manufacturers sneak sugar into our food as a cheap and lazy way to make it taste better.

"Sugary foods are no longer just an obvious treat," says Anne Alexander, author of The Sugar Smart Diet. "It's likely that you are eating far more sugar than you realize and getting it from places you would never suspect."


Your eight-ounce cup of fruit-flavored yogurt has as much sugar as a cup of vanilla ice cream. Both have about 28 grams of sugar, the equivalent of six teaspoons of sugar. In our research we even came across a yogurt that contained more than 40 grams of the sweet stuff.

Safer Swap: Plain yogurt and fresh fruit. Plain yogurt does have about 12 grams of sugar, but it comes from naturally occurring lactose, which isn't the enemy. Even if you add in a generous quarter cup of fresh blueberries, you're only adding about 4 grams of sugar, and none of it is added sugar. Better yet: Make it yourself!

pasta sauce
Pasta Sauce

Picture yourself at a fancy Italian restaurant: The waiter comes over with the tall pepper grinder for your Spaghetti Bolognese, except instead of pepper, out comes sugar. Think it's absurd to put sugar on your pasta? Better check the label on your jar of sauce. A cup of pasta sauce without meat has 15 grams of sugar.

Safer Swap: Not all brands of pasta sauce are the same, so be a sugar sleuth and read the labels. Look for a jar that has less than a gram of sugar per serving. "No sugar added" is a great label to search for. Better yet, make your own sauce using fresh ingredients like olive oil, onion, garlic, and basil so you know what's really in it.

Dried Fruit

Just because it has "fruit" in the name, doesn't mean it's healthy. A quarter cup of raisins has 22 grams of sugar; dried cherries have 23 grams; and dried cranberries have a whopping 29 grams.

Safer Swap: Real fruit. "Dried fruit has all the fiber, nutrients, and sugar of fresh, but concentrated into a smaller portion," says Alexander. "A half cup of fresh apricot halves has 37 calories and 7 grams of sugar. Half a cup of dried apricot halves supply 157 calories and 35 grams of sugar."

More: 10 Blood Sugar-Lowering Foods

Coffee Drinks

We love coffee and the health benefits of coffee. Unfortunately, many of the "coffees" you find in cafés are liquid sugar. The much-beloved pumpkin spice latte packs 24 grams of sugar and a green tea latte made with soymilk contains 28 grams of sugar.

Safer Swap: Make your own specialty coffee drinks. And stir your coffee or tea with a stick of cinnamon. Not only does it add amazing flavor, but cinnamon can also control blood sugar spikes.

Instant Oatmeal

Regular oatmeal makes a healthy breakfast that's high in fiber. Instant oatmeal, on the other hand, is essentially sugar in a pouch, containing 12 grams per serving.

Safer Swap: Buy plain oatmeal and jazz it up yourself with fruit, cinnamon, nuts, or a touch of real maple syrup.


Chinese takeout is full of dangerous sugar landmines. Sweet-and-sour chicken has 28 grams of sugar, and sesame chicken and orange chicken each have 19 grams.

Safer Swap: If you're too tired to cook for yourself, opt for "California-Style" Mexican food. Stick with a "streaker," meaning ditch the tortilla or shell.

More: 5 Steps to Cure a Sugar Addiction

Beef Jerky

Yes, beef jerky is a high-protein snack, but often it's coated up with "flavor," aka sugar, that will have you headed for a sugar spike and more hunger cravings. One ounce of jerky has about 2.5 grams of sugar.

Safer Swap: Cracked-pepper varieties are typically lower in sugar, while teriyaki or "sweet and spicy" varieties tend to be higher in sugar. When in doubt, check the ingredients label for signs of added sweetness.

Milk Alternatives

Soy and almonds aren't high in sugar, so why do soymilk and almond milk regularly have upwards of 7 grams of sugar in every cup? The answer: because manufactures put it there.

Safer Swap: Many brands offer an unsweetened variety that has a gram or less of sugar. If you're dying for more flavor, mix in your own vanilla or melted dark chocolate.

Sweet Pickles

Gherkins, those small, sweet two-inch pickles, are so cute and tasty. Too bad eating just one serves up 4 grams of sugar. Eat four of them, and you've just downed nearly four teaspoons of the sweet stuff.

Safer Swap: Kosher or dill pickles are much safer choices. An added bonus? When you have a sugar craving, a sour pickle can help crush it.

Peanut Butter

Peanut butter and jelly aren't just best friends—they're partners in crime. Peanut butter can have 1.5 grams of sugar per tablespoon.

Safer Swap: Look for peanut butter with no more than two ingredients: peanuts and salt. In fact, sugarless peanut butter can be a big help in crushing hunger. Eating PB or peanuts at breakfast curbs hunger and controls blood sugar levels throughout the day, according to a small study published in the British Journal of Nutrition.

Barbeque Sauce

Grilling your food is usually way healthier than frying it, unless you're drenching your dishes in sugary barbeque sauce. A single tablespoon has 9 grams of sugar; and how often do you really bring the measuring spoons out to the grill? (Be honest!)

Safer Swap: Skip the BBQ sauce, and get your flavor on with rubs, which are made with herbs and spices. Or, try a sugar-free marinade using olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon or lime juice, and your favorite herbs and spices.


Seems absurd to think of sprinkling sugar on your burger and fries, but that's exactly what ketchup does. Every tablespoon of ketchup contains a teaspoon of added sugar.

Safer Swap: Best swap is hot sauce or fresh (not jarred) salsa. Your second-best option is a low-sugar ketchup. Just avoid brands that use fake sweeteners, as those will keep your tastebuds hooked on the sweet stuff. Better yet—make it yourself!

See Next