So-Called "Healthy" Foods That Have More Sugar Than a Donut

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 secretly packed with scary-high amounts of sugar. Recently, the World Health Organization announced we should reduce our intake to 5 percent of daily calories—half of what the organization previously recommended.1

“It’s estimated that American adults consume about 130 pounds of sugar a year, or about 22 teaspoons of sugar per day,” says Christy Wilson, R.D. “More disheartening is that the average consumption in kids is 32 teaspoons of sugar a day.” 2

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). 3 The tricky thing is, sugar is also listed as corn syrup, maltodextrin and sucrose on nutrition labels, making it tricky to figure out exactly how much sugar is in a certain food. “Words that end in ‘-ose’ are terms for various types of sugar,” she adds. “This is why it is critical to learn how to read a food label and the list of ingredients. The order that the ingredients are listed is 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 are consuming.” 4

A tour of the grocery store shows that some foods aren’t as healthy as they seem. Here’s how to spot sneaky sugar bombs—and how to shop smarter:

Whole Grain Cereal

Cascadian Farms Cinnamon Raisin Granola

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

SUGAR EQUIVALENT: More than 6 Dunkin’ Donuts Sugar Raised Donuts

Expert take: “Although the quantity of sugar seems high in the cereal, the quality of sugar varies considerable between the cereal and the donut,” says Wilson. When you’re shopping for cereal and granola, be aware 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. 5

Dried Fruit

Ocean Spray, Craisins, Original

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

SUGAR EQUIVALENT: More than 7 Dunkin’ Donuts Sugar Raised Donuts

Expert take: 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, says Wilson. 6

Salad Dressing

Kraft Salad Dressing, Fat Free Catalina

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

SUGAR EQUIVALENT: More than 2 Dunkin’ Donuts sugar raised donuts

Expert take: 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, says Wilson. “It’s so easy to make your own dressings, too, with any type of vinegar, oil and herbal seasonings,” she adds. 7

Fruit Yogurt

Dannon Fruit on the Bottom, Peach

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

SUGAR EQUIVALENT: More than 6 Dunkin’ Donuts Sugar Raised Donuts

Expert take: To determine the amount of the added sugar in any yogurt, keep in mind that one cup of plain yogurt already has about 12 grams of naturally occurring lactose sugar. So if you compare a cup of sweetened yogurt to the 12 grams of plain yogurt, you can figure out the amount of added sugar. 8

Sources not cited or linked to above:

1, 4, 5, 6, 7 Phone interview with Christy Wilson, Registered Dietician, 2014

2, 3


Tips to choose a doctor while switching from a pediatrician when kids grow older

Choosing a doctor as your kids get older

What’s the right age for your child to outgrow the pediatrician? It depends.

Read about switching doctors
Information about the side effects and risks of weight loss pills

The lowdown on diet pills

Know the side effects and serious risks before taking diet pills.

Read the truth about diet pills
Learn tips on how to exercise at your work desk to get in to shape and stay healthy

Work out while you’re at work

Just because you’re stuck at a desk all day, it doesn’t mean you can’t get in shape and stay healthy.

Read about exercising at your desk