Is Sugar Hidden in Your Savory Meal?

Added sugar isn’t in and of itself a bad thing. It’s merely sugar that isn’t in food to begin with and was used as an ingredient. People can eat added sugar and still have a healthy diet. Adult women and men can have six or nine teaspoons of sugar per day, respectively. That is 26 or 36 grams, depending on your gender. Everyone who cooks knows a sprinkle of sugar is called for in a lot of recipes. A small amount of sugar shouldn’t be a deal breaker.

The problem comes when you accidentally eat way more sugar than you intended. That extra sugar usually comes in the form of sweet snacks and carbohydrates. We all know about reading labels on snacks for sugar. Some foods that seem healthy have extra sugar — the apparently innocent muffins, yogurt and granola bars. These “healthy” foods are obviously sweet, but you might not realize just how sweet until you read the nutritional facts. Labels that proclaim “no sugar added” are frequently inaccurate because manufacturers can use concentrated fruit juice as an ingredient. By reading the nutritional facts and ingredients, you can see what you’re eating.

It becomes even more of a chore when you realize you cannot just ignore labels of savory foods. Bread and crackers are known for being high in sugar. But, premade soups, dips and pasta sauces can be loaded with more sugar than you would have thought possible judging by their flavor. We routinely pick up the foods we have always eaten without thinking twice about it. They are safe and known. But Campbell’s tomato soup has 12 grams of sugar per half cup. When you are looking for sugar, the ingredients list might include things like barley malt, dextrose, sucrose, maltose and other syrups.

Frequently, noodle soups are less sugary. Dietitian Sanchia Parker explained why tomato soups are one of the most sugar-laden varieties. “Due to the acidity of the tomatoes, adding some sugar cuts through the acidity, making it more palatable.” You can find tomato soups with lower sugar levels. Soups needn’t be sugar-heavy, some organic brands pay special attention to their sugar content. However, you should also take a look at the sodium level to find a soup right for you. Many soups, regardless of flavor, have a lot of salt.

Premade spaghetti sauce is another sugar-heavy food. A tomato-based pasta sauce without any sugar added will have around three grams of natural sugar, from the tomato itself. Just like in the soup, a little added sugar cuts acidity. A touch of extra sweetness can make the flavors deeper. However, frequently half a cup has 12 grams of sugar — the same as a serving of Lucky Charms. Most people use more than one serving on a portion of pasta. This means that you might end up topping your pasta with much sugar as a can of Coke. For a quick cheat sheet of sugar in some major brands, click here.

Reading labels is so important to make sure you don’t unwittingly derail your sugar goals. Because sugar is added to even the most savory of dishes, it’s essential to take care of yourself in the supermarket aisle. Making your meals from scratch is the best way to avoid hidden sugar. But, many factors can make it so hard to cook daily. In a perfect world, we would know the exact source and nutritional profile of our food. In reality, we’ll settle for knowing the sugar, salt and carbs on our plate.  

June 05, 2019
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