Mind & Body

How to avoid hidden sugar in your food

You may think you have cut it from your diet, but you are likely consuming the sweet stuff without realizing. EVIE LEATHAM reveals how to steer clear of stealth sugars that can be found in everything from fruit to low-fat foods


Sugar is enemy number one when it comes to our health and our waistlines. “It causes inflammation and, on a more complex level, is not identified by our normal metabolic processes, causing a cluster of health issues such as insulin resistance and adrenal fatigue,” says Sarah Wilson, author of New York Times bestseller I Quit Sugar.

While most of us can identify, and so avoid, common offenders – forgoing sugar in our morning coffee, for example – we’re still falling foul of hidden sugars in our seemingly well-balanced daily diets. A glass of apple juice, for instance, contains ten to 12 teaspoons of sugar; dried fruits are 70% sugar; and low-fat products (especially dairy) are very often packed with the sweet stuff. “Where there’s no fat,” warns Wilson, “there is usually sugar to make up for the loss of flavor and texture.”

But upping our consumption of fruit in a bid to be ‘healthier’ comes at a price. “If it ends in -ose (fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose), the body can’t tell the difference – it is still sugar,” says Wilson. “The biggest issue is with fructose as it’s the only sugar processed by the liver and then stored as visceral fat. I advise one to two pieces of fruit daily, eaten alone (not as part of a fruit salad), so that you’re pacing the sugar load on your liver, and opt for lower fructose options such as kiwi, grapefruit and berries.”

Health foods are notorious for whacking on misleading ‘sugar-free’ labels. Agave-based products are regularly sold as sugar free, but agave contains 70-90% fructose

Even health food products are not always the sugar-free haven you’d presume. “They’re notorious for whacking on misleading ‘no refined sugar’ or ‘sugar-free’ labels,” says Wilson. “Agave-based products are regularly sold as sugar free, but agave contains 70-90% fructose.” Thankfully, there are healthier sugar alternatives, including rice malt syrup and stevia, a natural sweetener from a mint-like plant, which is 200 times sweeter than sugar in the same concentrations but won’t spike blood sugar levels.

So, how can you navigate sugar at the grocery store? Look at the nutrition information panel per serving and divide the grams or milliliters of sugar by four in order to give you the number of teaspoons of sugar you’re consuming. This shocking visual aid puts things into perspective: for example, if your morning muesli lists 30g of sugar per serving, you’re eating more than seven teaspoons before you’ve left the house. You can also use a tracking app – try FoodSwitch (available in the UK, US and Australia), Change4Life Sugar Smart (UK) or That Sugar App (Australia) – to scan everyday items and calculate how much sugar is in a product. Pretty sweet.