You may not be chugging cans of soda, eating donuts daily, or consuming other foods high in sugar content, but that doesn’t necessarily mean your diet is low in sugar. You may not realize it, but sugar is often present in foods that tend to be considered healthy, and it all adds up. The American Heart Association’s recommended daily allowance for added sugar is just six teaspoons for women and nine teaspoons for men, but most Americans consume a whopping 22 to 30 teaspoons a day!
When added to your daily diet, even some healthy foods have enough sugar to push you over your daily limit. So, what are the most common healthy foods high in sugar?
Why is Too Much Sugar Bad?
Eating sugar-laden foods can increase your blood-sugar levels and be harmful to your overall wellness. A high-sugar diet increases your risk of tooth decay, infections, diabetes and weight gain. Additionally, a recent study found that people who regularly eat a high-sugar diet tend to experience changes in their blood, such as elevated triglycerides and decreased HDL (good cholesterol), which can increase your risk of developing heart disease.
The World Health Organization recommends consuming no more than six to 12 teaspoons of sugar daily — the amount found in just one can of soda. This new guideline also recommends watching for added sugars found in processed foods and natural sweeteners, such as honey, fruit juices and fruit concentrates.
Healthy Foods High in Sugar
Some healthy foods can have a surprisingly high sugar content including:
Produce: While foods grown on trees or in the ground are always going to be healthier than those found in a package, some fruits and vegetables contain high amounts of naturally occurring sugars. Fruits such as cherries, grapes, bananas and oranges, and vegetables such as beets, carrots, corn, peas and potatoes can have high amounts of sugar. Moderate your intake accordingly.
Yogurt: Protein and probiotic-rich yogurt is one of the healthiest foods available. However, some fruit-flavored varieties can contain more than four teaspoons of sugar per serving.
Beverages: Sugar-sweetened beverages such as fruit juices, sports drinks, flavored waters and teas are the biggest causes of added sugar in our diets and can contain nearly as much sugar as soda. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these drinks account for more than one-third of the added sugar Americans consume. For example, 16 ounces of a popular green-tea drink contains more than seven teaspoons of sugar.
Condiments: While salads and lean proteins may form the base of your diet, many bottled salad dressings and marinades often contain large quantities of sugar or honey. Even low-fat mayonnaise and salad dressings can contain more sugar than regular varieties.
Alternative Food Choices
Lowering your sugar intake doesn’t mean eliminating all your favorite foods. When lowering sugar in your diet, spend time reading labels, and choose all-natural foods or foods with less added sugar. Manufacturers don’t always write “sugar” on their labels, so keep an eye out for code words, including syrup, honey, glucose, fructose, maltose and maltodextrin. If you want to reduce your sugar intake, try some of these easy substitutions.
Fruit. Most fruit has a high sugar content, but don’t eliminate fruit altogether. Instead of high-sugar fruits such as oranges and bananas, choose fruits like berries, plums, peaches and cantaloupe.
Vegetables. Vegetables are nutritious, but be mindful of carrots, potatoes and corn. Instead, choose vegetables like lettuce, spinach, cabbage or celery.
Dairy. Most dairy contains naturally occurring milk sugar (lactose). Decrease your sugar intake by choosing almond milk instead of dairy milk and Greek yogurt instead of plain yogurt.
Drink up. Most bottled juices and flavored waters contain added sugars. Instead, drink fruit-infused water or seltzer water.
Add some flavor. Many bottled salad dressings and marinades are loaded with sugars. Ditch the pre-made dressings and flavor your salads and meats with a moderate amount of vinegar, or lemon juice and olive oil mixed with herbs and spices. Sprinkle an assortment of seeds over soups and salads for added crunch, flavor and texture.
So, the next time you reach for a can of soda, try drinking a glass of fruit-infused water instead. Even small changes in your diet can have a big impact on your overall health and dental wellness.
How well can you spot sugar in common foods? Take this quiz.