A Sticky Situation: Added Sugars Are Hiding In Some Surprising Places

Spoon filled with granulated sugar surrounded by sugar cubes

Check your labels: Added sugars are often hidden in plain sight.

And those sugars can add up fast.

The American Heart Association recommends that adult women consume no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar per day and adult men have no more than 9 teaspoons (38 grams).

Yet, the average American consumes 19.5 teaspoons (82 grams) of added sugars daily, which means about 66 pounds of added sugar is consumed each year, per person.

What is Added Sugar?

Naturally occurring sugars are those that are present in foods like fruits, vegetables and dairy, and include fructose, glucose and lactose. Added sugars are used in processed foods to enhance flavor, improve texture and extend shelf life – without adding any nutritional value.

For example, blackberries contain naturally occurring sugar, but they also have fiber (more than 7.5 grams per cup), which slows digestion and helps control blood-sugar levels. Your body will experience less of a blood-sugar spike after you eat a handful of berries than it will after you consume a soft drink.

After weight-loss surgery, it is very important to limit your intake of added sugars for continued and maintained weight loss. The best option is to avoid food and beverages that are high in added sugar, or consume only small portions. In addition, for people who had gastric bypass surgery, consuming too much added sugar can also lead to dumping syndrome.

What Are Other Names for Sugar?

So, just avoid foods that list “sugar” high on their labels. Easy, right? Not so fast.

Unfortunately, added sugar is often disguised under a variety of names. It is important to carefully review the nutrition facts of food and beverage products before consuming them.

By Jan. 1, 2021, food manufacturers will be required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to label their products to reflect new scientific information, including the link between diet and chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease. The new label will make it easier for consumers to make better informed food choices. You can learn more about upcoming changes to nutrition facts labels here.

Currently, there are dozens of different names for added sugar that are listed on food labels. Here’s the list of some of the most common from the United States Department of Agriculture:

  • anhydrous dextrose
  • barley malt
  • beet sugar
  • brown sugar
  • coconut sugar
  • confectioner's powdered sugar
  • corn syrup
  • dextrin
  • dextrose
  • high-fructose corn syrup
  • maltodextrin
  • malt syrup
  • maltose
  • maple syrup
  • molasses
  • nectar
  • sorghum syrup
  • sucrose

You might also see other names for added sugars on food labels that are not recognized by the FDA as ingredient names. These include cane juice, evaporated corn sweetener, crystal dextrose and liquid fructose.

What Surprising Foods Often Contain a Large Amount of Added Sugar?

Candy, cookies and pastries certainly come to mind when you think of added sugars. But, there some more stealthy offenders out there, too. The three listed below might be some of the most surprising.

Low-fat yogurt: Not all yogurts are created equal. Low-fat varieties often rely on added sugars to enhance their flavor. Instead, reach for a “light” yogurt sweetened with a non-nutritive sweetener — such as stevia — or unsweetened Greek yogurt and add your own sweetness with some seasonal fruit.

Granola: Although granola is made from oats, which themselves are a nutritious, high-fiber cereal, it often incorporates a lot of added sugar. One ¼-cup serving of a popular brand contains more than six teaspoons of sugar. Make sure you read nutrition labels to choose a granola with less sugar, or make your own at home. Bariatric Cookery has this recipe for bariatric-friendly breakfast bars to get you started.

Canned soup: When you think of soup, you’re probably thinking savory, not sweet. However, many pre-made soups pack in sugar in the form of high-fructose corn and other syrups. Instead, make your own soup with seasonal vegetables and whole grains. Try this recipe for butternut squash soup from Kathryn, who has maintained more than a 100-pound weight loss since having bariatric surgery at Penn in 2006.

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Learn about bariatric surgery and get the support you need to continue on your weight-loss journey. We offer workouts, recipes and tips from Bariatric Surgery program team members, and stories from patients like you.

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