It’s back to school season, and if you’re a parent or caregiver that means you’ll soon be buying school supplies, coordinating after-school activities, and packing school lunches. With so many products claiming to be “natural” and “healthy,” it can be difficult to find the ones that are truly a healthy addition to your child’s lunch. There can often be an alarming amount of sugar in snack foods, especially those marketed toward children. Here are a few tips for how to identify sugars in packaged foods.
1. Hiding Behind Another Name
How much sugar would you guess you eat in a day? “Reduce sugar intake” has long been a common piece of advice in the nutrition and fitness world. While this has caused some food companies to actually reduce sugar in their products, it’s caused many others to simply hide sugar under a different name while still marketing their products as “healthy.” Learning to read food labels is your biggest defense against this tactic, and we’re here to help!
Here are some commonly used names for “sugar” on food labels. Expose sugar’s hiding spots by looking for its less commonly known names:
- Anhydrous Dextrose
- Brown Sugar
- Confectioners Powdered Sugar
- Corn Syrup
- Corn Syrup Solids
- High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
- Invert Sugar
- Malt Syrup
- White Granulated Sugar
You may also see other names used for added sugars, but these are not recognized by the FDA as an ingredient name. These include cane juice, evaporated corn sweetener, crystal dextrose, glucose, liquid fructose, sugar cane juice, and fruit nectar. If the sugar is unprocessed, you may see the terms turbinado, raw brown sugar, raw sugar, or unrefined sugar in your ingredient list.
2. Hiding in “Healthy” Places You Wouldn’t Expect
The American Heart Association recommends that women over 18 and kids ages 2-18 have no more than 100 calories of sugar per day (about 6 teaspoons' worth), and men over 18 have no more than 150 calories (about 9 teaspoons). This sounds like a staggering amount of sugar to be consuming on a daily basis, but the truth is, you’re likely already consuming WAY more than this. Even if you think you are eating healthy and in total control of your and your children’s diets, it’s wise to be on the lookout for ways sugar sneaks into your diet without being obvious.
We can all identify the unhealthy food options that contain astronomical amounts of sugar: candy bars, sodas and energy drinks, and baked goods. But sneaky sugar often hides in surprising places, like foods we typically deem to be “healthy”.
Processed Plant-Based Milks (Soy/Cashew/Almond) may seem like a healthy dairy alternative for your family, but flavored milk alternatives may contain up to 15 grams of sugar in a single cup.
Dried fruit is rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, which can give the appearance of being a healthy choice, but most contain added sugars. Dried cranberries with added sugar have about 31 grams of sugar per serving. A 1.5 ounce box of raisins has more than 25 grams of sugar.
Yogurt (especially low fat flavors) can have 17 to 33 grams of sugar per 8-ounce serving. That’s as much as 2 scoops of chocolate ice cream!
- Condiments, sauces, and marinades all contain added sugars, especially ketchup, BBQ sauce, teriyaki sauce, salad dressing, and pasta sauce. Sweeter salad dressings, such as vinaigrettes, French and Catalina contain 5 to 7 grams of sugar in just 2 tablespoons of dressing. Pasta Sauces may have between 6 and 12 grams of sugar per half-cup serving, equivalent to a chocolate chip cookie.
3. By Being Literally Everywhere!
It is actually impossible (and unhealthy!) to completely cut sugar out of your and your family’s diets, since at least a small amount naturally occurs in nearly all foods. Luckily, sugar is not all bad. Eaten sparingly and in the right forms, sugar is a part of any balanced diet. When you’re looking for something a little sweet for yourself or your child’s lunch, search for raw organic brown sugar, coconut sugar, coconut nectar, honey, maple syrup, dates, and agave. Also be sure that your food has a good balance of healthy fats, nutrients, carbs, fiber, and sugars (for example, a 100 calorie serving of fiber-rich, honey-sweetened granola is healthier than a 100 calorie serving of nutritionless gummy candy coated in refined white sugar crystals).
At LivBar, we use only unrefined, real food sweeteners: organic honey, organic coconut sugar, and organic coconut nectar. Each of our bars have between 9 grams and 10 grams of these unrefined sugars balanced with fiber, healthy fats, and nutritious superfoods, making them a perfect school snack or addition to school lunches.
Share Your Knowledge
Now that you’re a sugar-sleuthing expert, you can get out there and make even healthier choices for you and your family this school year. Share your best advice for back to school snacking and nutrition with us in the comments!
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