The Secret Sugar Hidden in Your Favourite Foods

Gone are the days of having to add sugar to sweeten your favourite foods. As a child (albeit a few years ago now), I remember adding a sprinkle of sugar to my breakfast cereal. But these days, I’m reading food labels extensively to make sure that the cereal I’m eating isn’t laden with sugar. If you look closely at the nutritional information printed on the box, you will notice that sugar has been added already – and quite possibly not just a sprinkle here and a teaspoon there, in some cases well above the recommended intake.

Unfortunately it’s not just packaged breakfast cereal high on hidden sugar – the sweet stuff is hidden in a lot of packaged food. Don’t be fooled by a label that reads “low fat” either, (as is the case with some diet yoghurts) because they can still be heavy in sugar.

You may not even notice the amount of sugar in a food item as it will taste quite savoury, and that’s where it gets tricky unless you know what to look for. Don’t be deceived by the taste, it’s not just sweets, chocolate and cakes that are high in sugar, but in fact some savoury food items can have just as much sugar in them. Food manufacturers will list the sugar according to its source, so it appears on the food label as things like fructose (fruit sugar), sucrose (white refined table sugar), dextrose, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, sorbitol, fruit juice concentrate,  xylitol, mannitol, galactose, lactose and polydextrose. In particular, keep an eye out for the main culprits in Australian made food, which are glucose, sucrose, lactose and fructose.

Sugars are carbohydrates, so essentially they are a source of energy to fuel our bodies. However, added sugars can increase the energy content of the diet while diluting its nutrient density. So not only does it affect the strength of the nutrients in our food, but too much energy in our diet can cause weight gain. The world health organisation recommends that no more than 10% of energy should come from sugars. Therefore it is important to check how much sugar in is each serve of the foods you consume. When reading a food label, skip across to the ‘per 100g’ column and check to see if the sugar content is 15 grams or under. If it is above that, then it’s not considered a healthy serving size of sugar. And to expand on that, if the food item does not contain fruit (and fruit’s naturally occurring sugar) then it’s best to stick to 10 grams or less per 100 grams.

So with hidden sugar in the food we consume, how do we know that we are sticking to this recommendation for the sake of our health? The only answer is to read food labels carefully, and be informed.

Here is my list of the main offenders when it comes to hidden sugar, so when purchasing your favourite food items, have a little look at the nutritional labels on these foods specifically;

  • Bread
  • Sauce (tomato, barbeque, pasta sauce)
  • Breakfast cereal
  • Muesli bars/fruit bars
  • Energy/sports drinks/vitamin water
  • Yoghurt
  • Salad dressing
  • Canned food items (soup/fruit/vegetables)