When I moved to New York from Australia five years ago, I had no idea how much sugar was in American food. I had always heard the food situation was bad, but I didn’t realize exactly how bad—or that I’d soon be formulating my own conspiracy theory about the food industry being in cahoots with the government to keep the masses of undereducated middle Americans fat and unhealthy. Does that make me sound like a vaguely lunatic Mel Gibson in Conspiracy Theory?
Consider that more than two-thirds of Americans are considered overweight or obese. That’s a lot of people. And it’s not helped by the fact that the sugar lobby manages to dodge any kind of regulation or bad press with heavy-handed marketing and the age-old American justification for individual autonomy, even if that autonomy means people dying of things like heart disease (or gunshot wounds). Since packaging includes percentage recommended daily intake for every other element in your food except sugar, the “freedom” argument rings false. How can you be free to choose from a place of ignorance?
Even when you think you’re doing the right thing and eating “reduced fat” or specific “health” foods, that’s just smart packaging. The sugar levels in these foods is just as dangerous as their “full fat” counterparts. And when I say “just as” I mean “exactly the same, or sometimes even more.” That much sugar has serious health repercussions, including weight gain (as your body converts the sugar to fat), diabetes, and heart disease, to name a few. Here are some things you might think are healthy, but are definitely very bad for you if your aim is to eat healthy:
1. . Health Bars That Are Actually Super High In Sugar
“Health” bars like Clif and Luna boast properties like “high protein” and “low fat” that purport to be good for you. You might even find them laid out for purchase at your gym, despite one tiny bar being loaded with 22g of sugar. Yep, that’s how much you’ll be likely to find in a Clif bar which includes brown rice syrup, a sugar known to contain high levels of arsenic. To put that in perspective, that’s 5.5 teaspoons of sugar, and a Snickers bar, considered a “junk” food has around 27g of sugar in it, which is frighteningly close to what’s in the health bar.
2. . Most Low Fat Yogurt
Low fat yogurts are generally a go-to for people trying to be health conscious. They can be probiotic and loaded with protein, but that comes at a price. And the price is sugar. Sugar occurs naturally in lactose, so if you’re eating yogurt it can’t really be avoided, but what can be easily avoided is the added sugar, which can up the sugar content of low fat yogurt to 29g in some cases. The American Heart Association recommends men eat 36g of sugar a day, and women eat only 20g, to put that in perpective. Greek yogurt only has 6g of naturally occurring sugar, so you’re actually better off eating full fat, no sugar added Greek yogurt than you are eating a gimmicky low fat one.
3. . Ketchup
I can hear you now. “How bad can ketchup be?” you’re asking, “It’s just tomatoes!” Sure it is, but it’s a whole lot of sugar too. One tablespoon size serving of Heinz ketchup for instance, has four grams of sugar, which is what you might find in a chocolate chip cookie. Now name one time you had ketchup and didn’t end up squeezing half a bottle over your fries. Horrified yet?
4. . Bottled Smoothies And Juices
Smoothies and juices are full of sugar at the best of times, especially if you’re making them with predominantly fruit. The good thing about a homemade smoothie is that you get the fiber included in the fruit’s skin and flesh (not so much in juice, unless you’re a heavy pulp person). Fiber helps your body release the sugar slowly, so your body doesn’t go into overdrive trying to turn it into fat. Bottled smoothies and juices are full of sugar, and not just because of the fruit content--they actually add extra sugar. How many times have you lumped in tablespoons of sugar to your homemade smoothie? (I’m hoping the answer is “never”). Odwalla smoothies and juices, for instance, can have a whopping 44g of sugar in a 12-ounce bottle. That’s around 10 teaspoons, and more than double your recommended daily intake of sugar. To put that in perspective, a 12-ounce can of Coke has 39g of sugar.
5. . “Healthy” Cereals And Granolas
There’s a myth that cereals and granolas, the ones you buy in the box, are good for you if they say “low fat” or “healthy” on them. Like some other “low fat” items, they also have sugar added to them in immense proportions. While you might think you’re not having sugar because it’s not listed on the box, ingredients like cane juice, molasses, brown rice syrup and oat syrup solids are just healthier/fancier sounding ways of saying “there’s still lots of sugar in this," meaning it’s still bad for you. Look for cereals and granola with less than 8g of sugar per serving, or even better, eat plain muesli with no added ingredients, and put some banana and cinnamon over it at home. You can even make your own granola, which is a great way to curtail sugar intake.
6. . Frozen Yogurt
It’s Friday night, you just had a delicious meal, and you want dessert, but you don’t want something “heavy” or "fattening." Low fat frozen yogurt chains are everywhere these days, and that seems like a healthy way to get your dessert fix while also being healthy, right? Insert huge “WRONG” buzzer sound here. Like everything else that purports to be healthy, frozen yogurt just lists “sugar” under several different aliases to make it look like you’re eating right. A 16-ounce cup of frozen yogurt, could, for instance, have 76g of sugar in it—and that’s before you add toppings. At that level, you might as well give in and have the ice cream you were craving, which, depending on what type you get, might even have less sugar that that. Breyers Original three flavor ice cream has 15g of sugar per serve, which is considerably less than that frozen yogurt you think is so healthy.