"I'm on a diet," said a co-worker one day, tossing a few scoops of Maxwell House vanilla-bean latte mix into a mug and taking a sip. I didn't have the heart to tell her that her instant coffee was an instant nightmare: a mere 15 grams of the mix—or 1/16th of the tiny container—was loaded with 9 grams of sugar. She likely took in two or more servings—or 20+ grams of sugar—in one shot.
This happens all the time. You don't have to check the nutritional label on a bag of Sour Patch Kids to see if it falls within your daily allotment of sugar. But meatballs? Pasta sauce? Soy milk? You might already be aware of these 14 "Health" Foods Worse Than a Donut, but we're here to reveal some that might have slipped under your radar, compliments of Zero Sugar Diet. Stay away from these 20 sly offenders that pack 20 grams of sugar or more. And to say goodbye to added sugars—and goodbye to your belly—for good, order your copy of Zero Sugar Diet today!
You might know to sidestep that chocolate chip muffin, but bran seems like a good-for-you option. “Bran muffins sound like they would be a high-fiber, low-calorie choice, but muffins are surprisingly sugar-filled,” says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, author of Belly Fat Diet For Dummies. “One Dunkin Donuts Honey Bran Muffin, for example, contains 39 grams of sugar per serving, which puts it on par with a donut,” she adds. “The added sugar sweetens the bran muffin but also boosts its total calories.” No matter where you buy your pastries, scan the label for the sugar count before digging in. And if you want to indulge in muffins without fear of growing a muffin top, pick up a pack of Udi’s Muffin Tops. You can nab two boxes of four for $15 on Amazon.com.
Fancy Coffee Drinks
An iced coffee beverage might sound harmless—I mean, its basically caffeine and frozen water, right? Before you guzzle one, remember that not all drinks are created equal, as you'll learn in Zero Sugar Diet. “A morning coffee sounds like an innocent choice, but the Starbucks Iced Espresso Classics Café Mocha packs in 21 grams of sugar per 12-ounce bottle,” cautions Palinski-Wade. The added sugar and mocha flavoring make it a calorie bomb you’ll want to avoid—and one of these 30 Unhealthiest Drinks on the Planet.
Post-Workout Protein Smoothie
If your gym has a drink bar, it likely offers smoothies. After you’ve finished your cardio or pumped your last rep, a post-workout treat probably sounds ideal. Plus, it’s got protein. How can you go wrong with the building blocks of muscle? “A post-workout protein smoothie sounds like it would be a low-sugar option, but that’s not always the case,” Palinski-Wade says. “Certain chains have drinks that contain 47 grams of sugar in a small. Some of the added sugar comes naturally from fruit, but smoothies can often contain significant amounts of added sugars from flavorings and juices.” Your best bet is to blend one up yourself. These smoothies for weight loss are some of our favorites.
While its high carbohydrate and protein content that often leads chocolate milk to be considered the perfect recovery drink, it’s still high in sugar. “Dairy contributes naturally occurring lactose, but many brands add additional sweeteners along with the chocolate flavor,” says Cara Harbstreet, MS, RD, LD of Street Smart Nutrition. “Unless you're highly active or engaging in intense exercise, those added calories might not provide many benefits. For daily sipping, reach for a glass of plain low-fat or whole milk and pair it with a small piece of dark chocolate to satisfy your sweet tooth.”
The good-for-you gut bacteria in kefir—a smooth, drinkable yogurt—have been touted as a health food for years. It’s available in a number of flavors, but if health’s at the forefront of your concerns, it’s best to stick with the unflavored kinds. “The fruity flavors have taste appeal, but there is added sugar hiding within them,” Harbsteet warns, referring to the Lifeway products, whose flavored varieties have between 20 and 22 grams of sugar per serving. (For a complete list of sugar-free products, see Zero Sugar Diet.) “Although dairy and fruit both contain naturally occurring sugar, the flavored varieties are sweetened with cane sugar. Instead, I recommend reaching for the plain version instead (with only 12 grams of the sweet stuff) that has no added sugar. You have the freedom to sweeten it with fresh or frozen fruit, jams or preserves, or mix it into smoothies or parfaits.”
Although you might not think of them as health food, energy drinks seem harmless enough. Chugging one before hitting the gym is worth the tradeoff, right? Not so, says board-certified naturopath Kathy Stricker. “These are more than just sugar [bombs], they are caffeine-loaded and dangerous,” she adds. One can of Red Bull contains 27 grams of sugar. That’s more than you’d find in six Dunkin Donuts sugar raised donuts. Surprised? Find out where else sugar is hiding in our special report 14 "Health" Foods Worst Than a Donut.
Organic Maple Syrup
Okay, we all know that maple syrup is packed with sugar, but who'd have thought that going organic could be even worse than the gross, fake kind. (We’re looking at you, Mrs. Butterworth!) Although it’s totally dependent on the brand, Madhava Organic Maple Agave Pancake Syrup has a whopping 30 grams of sugar in just two tablespoons, says Stricker. The only upside? Since the flavor in organic syrups is far more concentrated than the artificial kinds, you can get away with using far less—which we suggest we do. For even more ways to dial back your intake of the white granular stuff, check out these 30 Easy Ways to Stop Eating so Much Sugar.
Condiments can be tricky, and measuring out portion size isn’t always an option. The next time you order ribs off the menu, keep in mind that just two tablespoons can contain upward of 11 grams of sugar. Considering that more than four tablespoons get slathered onto a serving of ribs, an order of this protein could set you back on big time.
Tomatoes are an excellent source of antioxidants and vitamins A and C, so tomato sauce is just as beneficial, right? Not always. Case in point: Prego’s Heart Smart sauce. It might sound like a good choice because of its lower sodium content, but just one cup contains 20 grams of sugar thanks to added sweeteners. To find out which pasta toppers won’t ruin your diet, don’t miss our special report 40 Best and Worst Pasta Sauces—Ranked!.
Canned Fruit Cocktail
Fresh fruit has natural sugars from fructose, so they are most beneficial when you need an extra energy burst. That's why pre-workout apples and post-workout bananas are popular choices. However, there’s no good time to eat canned fruits, which are often packed in sugary syrup and loaded with high fructose corn syrup. A one-cup serving of canned peaches, for example, can contain upward of 39 grams of sugar. If you need your fruit to last longer, head to the freezer aisle and reach for no-sugar-added varieties that were flash-frozen at the peak of their ripeness.
Although cow’s milk contains natural sugar from lactose, the sugar in non-dairy milk is often the added kind. And at 19 grams per cup, chocolate soy milk really pushes the sugar boundary. It might not be the big 2-0, but it’s too close for comfort. If you’re looking for dairy alternatives, opt for unsweetened or light varieties.
If you’re parched, sipping on some ice tea might seem like a healthy option. How can you go wrong with water, tea leaves and the optional lemon slice? If you’re looking to boost antioxidants, set your kettle at home. Store-bought tea (like these 26 Absolute Worst Bottled Tea Products) can have more than 40 grams of sugar per bottle. Pure Leaf Peach Tea contains 46 grams of sugar per bottle while their lemon variety contains 41 grams of sugar and no actual lemons. Gross.
You probably know to be wary of sodium in canned soup, but you may not know that many varieties are riddled with sugar, too. Campbell’s Slow Kettle Style Tomato & Sweet Basil Bisque, for example, has 24 grams of sugar per cup. Sure, some that is coming from the tomatoes, but that’s still a lot of sweetness to dunk your grilled cheese in.
“Healthy” Frozen Meals
When you’re in a pinch, reaching for a frozen meal might not sound like a bad option—especially when that meal is labeled “healthy.” Still, pay attention to nutrition labels. Healthy Choice’s Café Steamers Pineapple Chicken, for example, touts grilled white meat and protein-rich edamame among its ingredients but has a whopping 19 grams of sugar in one bowl—more than the 18 grams of protein it contains. Pick these 15 New Healthy Frozen Foods that Make Clean Eating a Breeze.
“Sugar naturally occurs in yogurt, a healthy source of protein and calcium, but I would caution one to read all labels,” says Stricker, adding, “Low-fat yogurts are exceptionally high in sugar.” (Brands use it in excess to distract you from the lack of fat.) You might expect fruit-filled yogurt to be high in sugar—like Strawberry flavored Yoplait and Dannon’s Fruit of the Bottom Blueberry, which contains 26 grams and 24 grams respectively—but “healthy” yogurts do, too. “Surprisingly Stonyfield Organic Smooth & Creamy Low Fat Vanilla contains 29 grams of sugar, and All Natural Non-Fat Brown Cow Vanilla gets a low rating with 25 grams,” Stricker notes. Activia Blueberry Probiotic is not far behind at 19 grams. At a loss for which containers are actually good for you? These 25 Best Yogurts for Weight Loss are all reliable options.
Fresh Pressed Juices
Organic, fresh-pressed juices might sound healthy, but don’t depend on them for health benefits. Guzzle down just one glass, and you’ll be drinking a sugar bomb. “I examined labels of various drinks expecting health benefits of fiber, but was surprised by the sugar content,” Stricker tells us. “Eight-ounces of Lakewood Organic Pineapple Coconut Drink has 26 grams of sugar while their pure Concord drink has 36 grams.” In both cases, all the sugar is coming from fruit. But since the drinks are basically void of fiber, a nutrient that slows the absorption of sugar, these drinks aren’t much better than adding sugar to a cup of water and drinking it down. The bottom line: reach for whole fibrous fruits instead of juice.
They're easy to eat on the go, but snacking on one too many dried apricots could lead to sugar overload. “I knew that dried fruit had concentrated amounts of sugar, but these are among the worst,” Stricker says of Thompson Seedless Raisins. “They have 28 grams in 1/4 cup, and just 12 dried apple rings or 4 low-sugar, dried mango slices both have about 20 grams of sugar.” But that doesn’t mean all fruits are no-gos. Unlike dried fruit, fresh fruit contains water, so it make for a far more filling snack. The more satiated you are, the less you’re apt to eat.
The next time you’re looking for a sweet snack, trade in that pudding cup for actual dark chocolate. Just one cup of cook-and-serve, whole-milk chocolate pudding has 34 grams of sugar. Alter Eco's Dark Blackout Organic Chocolate, on the other hand, has just 48 calories and 1.2 grams of sugar per section. (But it for $3.62 on LuckyVitamin.com.) Though we’d advise against it, you could actually eat the entire bar (which contains ten sections) without hitting the 34-gram mark. Crazy, right?
Whole Wheat Pancakes
When it comes to eating a stack of pancakes, you might know you’re getting ready to carb overload, but sugar doesn’t always register. After all, if you skip the butter and fruit compote, you should be fine, right? Not always. A stack of four Harvest Grain ‘N Nut Pancakes from IHOP might sound healthier than buttermilk, but they actually contain 26 grams of sugar. Add on some light maple syrup, and you’re looking at 30-plus grams in your morning meal. Yikes! And if you think that’s bad, these 17 Restaurant Breakfasts Worse Than a Stack of Pancakes are far worse.
You’re better off eating an apple than going for the pureed version. One cup of sweetened applesauce contains 36 grams of sugar but only 3 grams of fiber. A medium-sized apple, on the other hand, has 4 grams of fiber and, although still sweet, only has 19 grams of sugar. Remember, it’s an apple a day—not the sauce—that keeps the doctor away.