I read an article on Yahoo this week that stated there were 57 different names for sugar. FIFTY-SEVEN! Of course, we can all recognize the common labels – white sugar, high fructose corn syrup, brown sugar. But what about the other-worldly galactose? Dextrose and maltose? Some sugars almost sound healthy. Brown rice syrup, anyone? Despite a name that provokes an image of a bee happily buzzing from flower to flower, honey is still sugar. And raw sugar, invert sugar, and turbinado sugar? Yep, all still simply sugar.
I have no issues occasionally indulging in a great dessert. Whenever my Mom bakes our family’s famous Chocolate Sad Cake (so named because it is downright ugly, but oh so delicious) I am the first to jump in line to have a piece. But I want to choose when I’m going to indulge and have something sweet. I don’t want sugars sneaking into my diet leaving me believing I am eating something healthy when really there are six different sugary components, hidden with fancy names and split up so that none of the sweeteners is at the top of the list of ingredients. After all, Dr. Oz says not to eat anything with a sweetener in the top five ingredients, right? But what if they are ingredients 6, 8, 9, 11, 12 and 15?
Even during my Weight Watchers years when I was dutifully counting points I didn’t pay much attention to sugar. But now I look at grams of sugar and search labels for hidden ingredients. Why? Of course, there are a plethora of medical reasons to avoid sugar. But it’s mostly because I don’t feel good when I eat too much added sugar. I do differentiate between processed and naturally occurring sugars – too many gummy worms and I feel sick. Bananas, on the other hand, have never left me with gut rot. When I started looking at labels there were a few surprises. Many foods generally classified as “healthy” are full of sugar. Here are my worst offenders:
Flavored Yogurts: A few years ago my Dad and I had an argument about this one. He had a firm belief that his Yoplait fat-free yogurt was an exceptionally healthy breakfast. He really didn’t believe me that it contained an inordinate amount of sugar. The good news was this was an easy argument to settle – we got a container of yogurt from the refrigerator and examined the label. 14 grams of sugar. Fours grams more than a glazed Krispy Kreme donut.
Lesson Learned: Choose plain regular or Greek yogurt and add fresh fruit. My favorite combination is apple and cinnamon. Still tasty and much more nutritious!
Low-Fat Peanut Butter: Creamy Jif peanut butter has 190 calories per two tablespoon serving. Reduced-fat Jif peanut butter has 190 calories per two tablespoon serving. Wait! Lowfat is supposed to be lower in calories! So what is happening here? Simple – peanuts are naturally full of fat. Taking the fat out of peanuts makes them taste bad, so sugar is added to make the food more palatable. Although, in the case of peanut butter, I have to say it was a miserable failure. Have you ever tasted low-fat peanut butter? Terrible!
Lesson Learned: Peanut-butter is high in calories and fat, but if you’re going to have it, by all means, eat the kind that tastes good!
Granola Bars: A few weeks ago the Be Natural brand was giving away granola bars and oatmeal in Federation Square on my walk to work. I grabbed one of the Nut Delight bars and went on my way. That afternoon I opened the bar and took a bite. I was immediately hit by overwhelming sweetness. To the eye, the bar was mostly a mixture of different nuts, but the glue holding it all together was a syrupy, honey sugar. Looking at the ingredients confirmed my suspicions – the first ingredient was mixed nuts, but ingredients 2, 3, and 4 were invert sugar, glucose, and honey. Even Kashi, which I very much regard as a great brand with excellent products, often have multiple kinds of sugar in their granola bars. Their Fruit and Nut bars contain brown rice syrup, dried cane syrup, cane syrup, honey, and molasses.
Lesson Learned: Granola bars can be a great snack on the go. Just make sure to look at the nutritional info and ingredients list to know what you are eating.
Tomato Sauce: Until recently it had never occurred to me that marinara sauce contained added sugar. After all, tomatoes are relatively sweet on their own and marinara sauce doesn’t taste overly sugary. But I was wrong. The epiphany came when looking at the calorie count of different kinds of marinara sauces and I saw that the sauces ranged between 40 and 110 calories for a ½ cup serving. 110 calories for a ½ cup of marinara sauce?!? How could that be? The answer: Sugar (and sometimes oil). As a point of comparison, Classico Tomato and Basil sauce has 45 calories and 5 grams of sugar per serving with no added sweeteners. Prego Chunky Garden Tomato, Onion, and Garlic sauce has 90 calories and 10 grams of sugar. Put “garden” in the title of a food and it sounds like it should be the healthier option, right? Wrong!
Lesson Learned: Read the label and choose a marinara sauce with no added sugar. Or better yet, pick up a can of diced tomatoes with Italian herbs. Delicious and, for the most part, what you see is what you get.