8 'Health' Foods Secretly Filled with Sugar

Written by Alex Reid
Posted March 19, 2013

I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that sugar is bad for you. It's common knowledge that we should be avoiding highly processed sugary foods like soda and candy; these lead to raised insulin levels and contribute to obesity as well as many other diseases. The tricky part is figuring out where all that sugar is hiding, because it can often be found in even the most unlikely places

One of the problems is that sugar goes by many names, which allows food manufacturers to hide the actual amounts in their ingredients lists, as each different type of sugar can be listed as a separate ingredient. Sugar can even hide under such labels as “natural flavors” and “organic” which are designed to trick consumers into thinking a product is healthier than it really is. The bottom line is that all of these food manufacturers do not have your health interests in mind; they have your wallet in mind. It's a known fact that sugar makes food taste better. It's also cheap to produce and lasts a long time in packaged foods that sit in warehouses and on grocer's shelves for months before they reach your home. Most of the foods you see on the grocery stores' shelves is specifically designed to get you to buy more at the lowest possible cost to the company, regardless of what the product will do to your health. This means that sugar is put into practically everything to entice you into buying more of it.

So how do we avoid the stuff when food companies are using every available resource to hide it? The trick is in really knowing what you're eating, and identifying the tricks used by food companies to sell you their sugar-filled products. One of the most common ways this is done is by marketing foods with high-sugar content as healthy snacks or alternatives to known “junk foods.” But these “healthy alternatives” are often just as bad or worse than their famously formidable counterparts.

Here are 8 of the most sugar-packed products marketed as health foods:

1.  Yogurt – Low-fat yogurts are notoriously touted as health foods containing zero grams of fat and a low number of calories. But the truth is they are just as much of a dessert as their decadent labels make them out to be, containing loads of sugar. Yoplait's light thick & creamy lemon meringue flavored yogurt packs 14 grams of sugar. To put that in perspective, it's more sugar than seven pixie stick straws. A seemingly healthier option like Greek yogurt is not much better, both Chobani and Oikos honey Greek yogurts contain 19-20 grams of sugar – more than a Little Debbie blueberry muffin. Instead of yogurt, try having cottage cheese with fresh fruit like cantaloupe as snack.

2.  Granola/Granola Bars – If you're adding granola to your yogurt thinking it's a healthy breakfast or snack alternative – think again. Nutritionally speaking, granola bars are about as healthy as candy bars and often contain sugar as the number one ingredient. A Nature Valley sweet and salty nut granola bar has 13 grams of sugar (as much as five packs of SweeTarts) and only 4 grams of protein. However, there are some options available that are more reasonable. For example, the Kashi Honey Almond Flax granola bar has only 5 grams of sugar and 7 grams of protein. Always read the labels before you purchase these so you know exactly what you're getting.

3.  Cereal – We all know there are certain cereals out there that might as well be candy – anything frosted or containing marshmallows is a safe bet to avoid – but some cereals that are marketed as “healthier” or “diet-friendly” options are almost as bad. Special K fruit and yogurt has 11 grams of sugar per serving, while Quaker oatmeal squares has 13 grams, and Kellogg's smart start strong heart toasted oat has a whopping 17 grams per serving – as much as a Ding Dong. A better choice would be General Mills Fiber One which contains 0 grams of sugar and is packed with fiber. Cheerios, Shredded Wheat Original, and Kashi GoLean are also good options that are lower in sugar and calories, but a better way to start your day would be an omelet loaded with veggies and enough protein to get you through the morning.

4.  Tomato Sauce – Companies manufacturing spaghetti sauce compete with each other by adding sugar to improve taste. Both Prego and Francesco Rinaldi list sugar as the second ingredient in their traditional pasta sauces (only behind tomatoes), while it is the third ingredient in Bertolli's organic and Ragu's original varieties. However, some popular brands, like Hunt's and Ragu, have come out with “no sugar added” options which contain less than half the sugar of the full-flavor versions. You can also whip up your own sauce using fresh ingredients and control exactly how much sugar goes into it.

5.  Salad Dressing – So you're having a salad for lunch, smart choice, right? If you're pouring “light” dressing over it, you may be doing more harm than good. Many light salad dressing varieties remove fat but replace it with more sugar to achieve the right taste. Ken's Steak House Fat-Free Raspberry Pecan has 10 grams of sugar in just 2 tablespoons. Instead, opt for a something like Annie's Naturals Lite Raspberry Vinaigrette which has 4 grams per serving.

6.  Diet Shakes – May popular weight-loss programs involve replacing meals with shakes which promise to fill you up and slim you down. But the truth about these shakes, which are often prefaced with labels like 'protein' or 'nutrition,' is that they are often filled with sugar and carbs, and you'd be better off having an actual meal. The Special K 'protein' shake has only a third the protein as carbs and contains 18 grams of sugar, as much as a Hershey's Take 5 candy bar. A chocolate Slim Fast shake also has 18 grams, while and Ensure 'nutrition' shake contains 22 grams of sugar. If you're really looking for an easy protein boost, skip the sugar by making your own shake using protein powder and milk.

7.  Canned fruit – You may think you can't go wrong with fruit as a snack, but if it's packed in heavy syrup, your healthy snack of canned peaches could contain over 30 grams of sugar, making it essentially a dessert. Instead, opt for fresh or frozen fruit.

8.  “Wheat” Bread – Since most health-conscious consumers are now aware that the refined carbohydrates found in white bread are mostly sugar, labels like “whole grain” and “wheat” are popping up on grocery shelves everywhere, yet there is no consistent standard for classifying a product as “whole grain.” According to a Harvard study, foods labeled with the “whole grain stamp” were actually higher in sugar and calories than foods without it. To really be sure, always read the label before buying a loaf. Whole grain, whole wheat, or something similar, should be the first ingredient listed without any added sugar in the first three ingredients. Don't be fooled by names like “honey wheat” which can contain 15 grams of sugar in two slices!


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