So-called “healthy” foods that may have more sugar than a donut

Happy family sitting at a table having breakfast

You found it in the health food aisle. It says “organic” on the label. So it’s got to be good for you, right? Not so fast.

Lots of seemingly healthy products are packed with high amounts of sugar. A Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine study suggested that people who take in higher amounts of sugar are at a greater risk of heart disease.1

The American Heart Association recommends limiting the amount of added sugars to no more than 100 calories a day for women (about 6 teaspoons) and no more than 150 calories a day for men (9 teaspoons).2

The tricky thing is, sugar is also listed as corn syrup, maltodextrin and sucrose on nutrition labels. That can make it challenging to figure out exactly how much sugar is in a certain food. Learn how to read a food label and the list of ingredients. The ingredients are listed in order of weight. So if the first ingredient is a type of added sugar, that is the primary ingredient in the food product you’re consuming.

A tour of the grocery store shows that some foods aren’t as healthy as they seem. Below are a few examples of common items found in most grocery stores. Actual measurements may vary by manufacturer. Here’s how to spot sneaky sugar bombs—and shop smarter:

Whole grain cereal

Cinnamon raisin granola

Per cup: around 345 calories, 4.5 g fat, 27 g sugar

SUGAR EQUIVALENT: More than 6 sugary donuts

Although the quantity of sugar seems high in the cereal, the quality of sugar varies considerably between the cereal and the donut. When you’re shopping for cereal or granola, be aware that the words “crunch,” “crisps,” and “clusters" are all red flags. These words usually mean that clumps of crispy rice are held together by sugar and fat.

Dried fruit

Dried cranberries

Per ¼ cup: around 130 calories, 0 g fat, 29 g sugar

SUGAR EQUIVALENT: More than 7 sugary donuts

Cranberries have one of the lowest sugar contents of all berries, which is why most cranberry products have to be sweetened to make the flavor palatable.

Salad dressing

Salad dressing, fat free

Around 150 calories, 0 g fat, 350 mg sodium, 7 g sugar

SUGAR EQUIVALENT: More than 2 sugary donuts

Before you buy, look at the product’s ingredient list. Choose foods that list added sugars toward the bottom of the list—or not at all. You can also make your own dressing with vinegar, oil and herbal seasonings to reduce the amount of sugar.

Fruit yogurt

Yogurt with fruit on the bottom, peach

Around 150 calories, 1.5 g fat, 27 g sugar, 6 g protein

SUGAR EQUIVALENT: More than 6 sugary donuts

To determine the amount of added sugar in any yogurt, keep in mind that 1 cup of plain yogurt already has about 12 g of naturally occurring lactose sugar. So if you compare a cup of sweetened yogurt to the 12 g of plain yogurt, you can figure out the amount of added sugar. Also, you can dress-up the plain yogurt with fresh fruit and other healthy toppings.

Sources:

1. “Eating too much added sugar increases the risk of dying with heart disease,” Harvard Health Publishing, last accessed December 31, 2018, https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/eating-too-much-added-sugar-increases-the-risk-of-dying-with-heart-disease-201402067021. , opens new window

2. “Sugar 101,” American Heart Association, last accessed December 31, 2018, https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/sugar-101#.WruiYE2Ww5s. , opens new window