Hidden Sugar in Your Diet: Recognizing Common Culprits

Hidden sugars are everywhere. Here's are some foods to watch out for.

Are you cutting back on cookies, candies and fruit juices to reduce your sugar intake? You’re probably making an honest effort, but you might still be eating more than you realize.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the average American eats a lot more than 15 teaspoons of sugar each day. According to the American Heart Association, women should aim to eat no more than six teaspoons per day, while men should aim to eat no more than nine teaspoons.

If we know that too much sugar has serious effects on our weight and health, why does America’s consumption continue to have such a high average in our daily diets?

Hidden Sources of Added Sugar

The answer might lie in the fact that even many “healthful” foods have hidden sugars lurking behind the label. Beyond your typical soft drinks, pastries, cakes, candies and cookies, here are some common food sources whose sugar content can be quite staggering.

Breakfast Cereals

Cereal is quick to prepare and beloved for its breakfast superpowers of getting you up and energized. But while many cereal brands boast of health benefits like “heart healthy” or “fiber-packed,” the majority of breakfast cereals are very high in sugar. Some boxes contain more than 15 grams in just one serving! This is especially true for specialty flavors.


We love yogurt for its thick and creamy texture, flavor diversity and probiotic benefits. Greek yogurt is even popular for its high protein content. But those fruity and dessert-like flavors we enjoy so much often translate to a ton of added sugar. Many of our favorite brands have more than 13 grams per 5.3 oz which definitely adds up, especially as a favorite breakfast or snack food.

Granola Bars

These convenient snacks come in a bunch of tasty flavor and are often marketed to provide whole-grain energizing benefits. But to add-in the extra flavor, most granola bar brands (and fitness bars for that matter) pack-in sugar — sometimes more than 12 grams per bar.


Many condiments are fairly high in sugar such as ketchup, salad dressings, barbeque sauce, teriyaki sauce, hoisin sauce and relish. These hidden contents add up fast if you frequently find yourself wanting to give your food an “extra kick” or some extra flavor.

Pasta Sauces

Jarred sauces are notoriously high in sugar, even if they have more of a tart or savory taste. Pizzas, pastas and many Italian dishes make use of tomato sauce, marinara, vodka sauce or alfredo sauce, which are often sweetened for extra flavor and preservation.

The Bottom Line

While it might be hard to escape sugar entirely, it’s possible to cut back on added amounts even more than you might already be doing. Before you purchase any packaged or processed item at the store, make it a habit to read its nutrition label — even if it’s seemingly healthy on the outside. You might be surprised to find out how much added sugar you’ve made a part of your diet.

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