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5 foods with hidden sugar

04 November 2014, 12:05

Abuja - So, you've made it your mission to follow a healthier lifestyle. You've been exercising more, cutting out the fats, limiting your salt intake and staying away from the sweets. All good? Not so. Even if you don't have a sweet tooth, you might still be eating far more sugar than you think. Sugar comes in many different guises and much of it is hidden in your favourite foods. 

Manufacturers often add different kinds of sugars during the canning or packaging process, which adds more kilojoules to the food without any nutritional value. Like salt, sugar can also be used as a preservative to extend shelf life. 

Read the ingredient list of your favourite convenience food. There’s a good chance that it includes sugar. The best-known sugars are fructose ("fruit sugar") and sucrose ("table sugar"). But they are also often listed by another name: honey, dextrose, fructose, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, sorbitol, fruit juice concentrate, galactose, lactose, polydextrose, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, maltodextrin and turbinado sugar. 

Sugars, along with starches and dietary fibres, fall into the carbohydrate group. When broken down in the body, sugars and starches provide 16kJ of energy per gram. Too much sugar can play havoc with your blood glucose levels and increase your risk for diabetes. It may also cause obesity, and increase your risk for high cholesterol and heart disease. It has even been linked to cancer. 

Maximum 12 teaspoons of sugar per day 

The World Health Organisation recommends consuming no more than 10 percent of your daily kilojoules in sugar. Using this rule, and based on an 8 000 kilojoule-per-day diet, sugar consumption should be no more than 800 kilojoules per day, or approximately 50 grams of sugar. 

If one teaspoon of sugar equals four grams, this means your total sugar intake per day should be no more than 12 teaspoons of sugar. This may sound generous enough, but if you think that one can of soda alone already equals 40 grams (or 10 teaspoons of sugar) or one cup of your favourite cereal could contain up to 20 grams (or 5 teaspoons of sugar), you don’t really have much to work with. 

Have a look at our list of top 10 foods with hidden sugar to learn how you can cut your sugar intake and live a healthier life today.

Peanut butter

There’s nothing better than a slice of toast with peanut butter. One of the reasons it’s so delicious is the high amount of added sugar. The sugar content various by brand, so it’s a good idea to compare labels. The sugar content is mostly listed under carbohydrates (“of which sugars”) and listed in grams. Divide the number of grams by four to calculate the teaspoons of sugar per portion.

Salad dressings

You’d be surprised to find how much sugar ready-made salad dressings contain. The biggest culprits are the low-fat versions - the manufacturers remove the fat of the salad dressing but add extra sugar and salt to improve the taste. The healthiest option is still to make your own salad dressing by using a small amount of olive oil, fresh lemon juice or Balsamic vinegar and adding some fresh herbs.


A favourite snack at breakfast or at the office is yoghurt. Most of us prefer the flavoured ones but they all contain added sugar – even the low-fat and non-fat versions. Some brands of flavoured yoghurts contain up to 20 grams (or 5 teaspoons) of sugar per serving – that equals a big piece of fudge per “healthy” yoghurt serving. Rather opt for plain yoghurt and add fresh fruit and honey to sweeten it.

Canned vegetables

Many brands of canned vegetables contain hidden sugars that are used during the manufacturing process to make their shelf life longer. Have a look at the ingredient list to see whether any sugar has been added and, if you must have sweetened veggies, choose a brand with the lowest sugar content. The best option is still to cook fresh vegetables and add a sprinkling of sugar at the end to satisfy your tastebuds.

Bread and rolls

Though it may be obvious that some breads such as raisin, carrot or banana bread have sugar in them, many breads and rolls (both white and wholewheat) also contain sugar. Some breads contain as much as a teaspoon of sugar per slice, so check the labels before buying. Check out bakeries or local markets for healthier bread options or consider baking your own bread.

- Health24

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