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Sugar has been in the media a lot recently, and there are so many mixed messages. Just this week during the Great British Bake Off, we were informed that a cake containing honey or agave syrup as the sweetener was ‘sugar free’! Well we took social media by storm to inform the nation that this was incorrect. In fact, honey, agave and any other type of sugar contains just as much sugar as the white stuff. So I thought in the spirit of sugar, I would put a list together of 10 foods which commonly contain added sugar, which you traditionally might think of as ‘healthy’ or a ‘healthy alternative’. I will also include some information about other names used for sugar on the ingredients list, so that you’re better informed next time you hit the supermarket.
1. ‘HEALTHY CEREAL BARS’ – Many cereal bars are over 40% sugar, and would be better situated in the confectionery aisle. However, even those marketed as ‘healthy’ are often high in added sugar. I looked at four different cereal bars / brands to give you my verdicts:
Eat Natural Almond & Apricot with Yoghurt Coating – this bar consists of 30% yoghurt coating, and of this, sugar is the second highest ingredient after vegetable fat. It also contains sweetened dried blueberries and cranberries (dried fruit with extra added sugar). It also contains a small amount of honey, another name for ‘sugar’
Nature Valley Trail Mix Fruit & Nut Bars – despite the healthy sounding name, this bar contains 3 teaspoons of sugar. It has added corn syrup (the second highest ingredient), fructose and barley malt extract – other names for sugar, as well as added sugar itself
Trek Cocoa Flapjack – these bars contained rice syrup as the second ingredient – another term for sugar and no healthier than golden syrup
Nakd Bars – these were much lower! Some flavours / varieties have added sugar, whilst others do not. For example, the strawberry crunch Nakd bar includes a small amount of apple juice concentrate (another form of sugar), whereas the cocoa mint bar doesn’t have any added sugar; simply the sugar naturally present in the dates and raisins.
2. BABY FOODS – What? I hear you saying! Many snack foods on the baby food aisle actually contain added sugar in the form of fruit juice, e.g. apple juice concentrate. For example, apple rice cakes aimed at 7+ month babies consist of rice cakes coated in apple juice. We know that eating an apple whole or in chunks is great, as the sugars naturally inside are released slowly during digestion. However, when juiced, the natural sugar (fructose) is quickly absorbed in a similar way to normal sugar. This sort of snack also gets babies used to expecting a sweet taste, which could affect their diet and weight as children and adults.
3. SWEETENED DRIED FRUIT – It took me by surprise to see that many foods will contain sweetened dried fruit – this is where the dried fruit has extra sugar added to make them taste sweeter. This is common in foods like cereal bars and also breakfast cereals like mueslis. I will never forget reviewing two mueslis from the Dorset Cereal range, to find one – Simply Delicious Muesli – which contained a small amount of barley malt extract only, a form of sugar (the majority of the 17g sugar per 100g of product was from the natural sugar in the dried fruit), and another – Luscious Berries & Cherries Muesli – which contained dried sweetened fruit (and had a sugar content of 36g per 100g) – that’s a whopping 4 teaspoons of sugar per bowl, instead of the almost 2 from the Simply Delicious Muesli! This just shows how important it is to read the labels of your cereal, regardless of how healthy the packaging looks.
4. YOGHURTS & FROMAGE FRAIS – National dietary surveys show that yoghurts are the fifth biggest contributor to our intake of ‘free sugars’ (this figure excludes the sugars – lactose – naturally present in the milk/yoghurt). It’s not uncommon to see low fat yoghurts containing 20g of sugar per pot (that is about 3 teaspoons from added sugar!) Small pots of kid’s fromage frais also have significant added sugar, with popular brands often containing more sugar than supermarket-own and value brands. One particular brand used sugar as the second highest ingredient, as well as added fruit puree and fructose.
5. FRUIT JUICES AND SMOOTHIES – I have already covered the healthiness of these in another blog. Whilst a small portion of pure fruit juice, or pure fruit smoothie can be enjoyed as part of a healthy diet, many add additional sugar, meaning you need to carefully check the label. You can often spot added sugars when juices call themselves ‘juice drinks’. Usually in this situation, the juice contains more water and sugar than fruit itself. Look for ones saying ‘100% fruit’ or ‘100% fruit from concentrate’, or look for the ingredients list and see what’s been added to your juice. Hopefully it will just say ‘apples’ rather than ‘water, sugar, apples, citric acid’.
6. PASTA SAUCES – Most people use these from time to time for convenience – however, it’s not uncommon for pasta, curry and sweet & sour stir-in sauces to have lots of added sugar. A small amount of sugar is to be expected but checking the label and comparing different brands will arm you with the information you need to make healthier choices if you use these sauces regularly.
7. SOUPS – Shop-bought cans and packet soups can contain large amounts of sugar. This is because adding sugar to soups enhances their flavour. A small (300ml) can of Heinz cream of tomato soup contains around 2 1/2 teaspoons of added sugar (additional to the sugar naturally present in the tomatoes).
8. SALAD DRESSINGS – It’s often the low fat ones that contain added sugar – sugar is added to improve the flavour which is lost by removing the fat. Rather than ‘sugar’, the label is more likely to use other names for sugar, like honey, dextrose and maltose. Instead of buying ready made, why not make your own healthy vinaigrette by combining olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice and a little stevia sweetener, mustard and black pepper.
9. KIDS LUNCHBOX ITEMS – Things like Fruit Winders, Bear Yo Yos and Yoghurt Flakes are popular additions for kid’s lunchboxes. Well did you know that as well as the fruit juice in Fruit Winders, they also contain glucose, maltodextrin (other names for sugar) and sugar itself?…. And that a little 25g bag of Fruit Bowl Blackcurrant Yogurt Flakes contain almost a whopping 4 teaspoons of sugar (ingredients include sugar and glucose-fructose syrup). Bear Yo Yos contain the least sugar of these three options, with one 20g Yo Yo containing just over 1 teaspoon of sugar, which comes from baked fruit only.
10 FANCY MODERN SUGAR ALTERNATIVES – I’m not talking about sweeteners and stevia here – but other things like agave syrup, honey, and other ‘modern’ ways to sweeten cakes, biscuits and cereal. Manufacturers will try to fool you at every turn, and disguise the sugar their products contain by using fancy-pants names for them. I have to break it to you, but honey has not been proven to be healthier than sugar. Plus if you’re adding honey or a syrup to your porridge, you’ll probably end up adding more sugar than if you were to use the white stuff anyway!