Foods That Are Secretly Loaded With Added Sugar

Oh, sugar. That sweet flavor is the stuff dreams are made of. Still, we all know sugar is no good for us. "Sugar is so unhealthy because it's very addictive," Esther Yepez, oral health manager at The Los Angeles Trust for Children's Health, told me. She explained that eating sugar only causes our bodies to crave it more. It's a vicious cycle that causes us to avoid birthday cakes and office doughnuts like the plague. 

The problem is, sugar is creeping its way into our diets from all angles, even when we think we're avoiding it. Here are just a few foods that are secretly loaded with sugar. 

Barbecue sauce

What meat-eater doesn't love baby back ribs or chicken wings lathered up in sweet, tangy barbecue sauce? Trust us, we get it. Unfortunately, this popular topping is actually a sneaky health saboteur, according to registered dietician Catherine Metzgar, Ph.D. "Just one tablespoon of conventional barbecue sauce has about six grams of sugar," she told me. That's a whole lot considering most of us probably use that much (or more) on one chicken wing.


"When we think ketchup, we think tomato, which is a healthy food," said registered dietician Wendy Kaplan. Unfortunately, looks can be deceiving. "Just one tablespoon of ketchup is four grams of sugar. That's equivalent to one teaspoon of sugar." And like with barbecue sauce, most people use more than that amount when adding ketchup to a burger or a plate full of French fries, making it a big contributor of sugar in our diets. 


If hot sauce is more your style, don't think you're in the clear. In fact, it turns out adored chili sauce Sriracha might actually be unhealthier than ketchup, according to an article published on Elite Daily. Not only is sugar the second ingredient in Sriracha (after chilies), the popular condiment has about the same amount of sugar per serving as ketchup, plus twice the sodium.

Pasta sauce

Italian food lovers, beware. Starchy pasta might not be the only unhealthy ingredient in your bowl of spaghetti and meatballs. According to ABC News, the average bottle of store-bought pasta sauce is loaded with added sugar. Instead of using fresh tomatoes and olive oil, these hassle-free pasta sauces are usually made from inexpensive, dehydrated vegetables and other less-than-quality ingredients. 

Instead, stick to the homemade stuff. It might take a bit more time and effort, but in the end, your health is worth it.

Canned fruit

Canned fruit might seem like a healthy enough snack choice, but the truth is, these can be the same as eating a candy bar. Take mandarin oranges in light syrup, for instance. "Mandarin oranges should be healthy since they are a staple in the Mediterranean diet," said Kaplan. "But one half cup serving [of mandarins in light syrup] contains 19 grams of sugar — that's almost five teaspoons of sugar!" She also noted that words like "light" may sound like a health halo, "but 'syrup' is a sugar and depending on amount added, it can be a lot more than you may think."

Instant oatmeal

Oatmeal is a go-to breakfast for many of us because it's tasty, it's filling and, of course, because oats are healthy, especially when the package is labeled with the 100 percent whole grain stamp, right? "Not when sugar is the second most abundant ingredient," said Kaplan. "One package [of instant oats] contains 12 grams of sugar — that's three teaspoons!" If you like oatmeal in the morning., opt for old-fashioned or steel-cut oats, instead. 

Flavored yogurt

Yogurt is another breakfast staple that, if not paid attention to, can add huge amounts of unnecessary sugar into your diet. "There is 18 grams of sugar in a single-serve container of Yoplait and 14 grams in a Chobani," said Dr. Caroline Apovian, director of the Nutrition and Weight Management Center at the Boston Medical Center.  

When shopping for yogurt, stick with the plain stuff —hen add fresh fruit for a touch of sweetness. 

Green smoothies

Spinach, kale, green apple, oh my — green smoothies are certainly one of those "healthy" staples you can find all over any fitness enthusiast's Instagram feed. They must be good for you, right? Not exactly, according to Metzgar. "A 12-ounce tropical greens smoothie from Jamba Juice contains 29 grams of sugar in just a single serving," she told me. "That's nearly six teaspoons of sugar, and your body doesn't care that it is 'natural'." She also noted that other products labeled "sugar-free" aren't always safe either. "They may have sugar substitutes, like maltitol, that can still raise blood sugar." 

Organic tea

It seems implied that tea would be healthy, and organic tea would be even better for you. "Don't be fooled," said Kaplan. "Organic foods and drinks can be just as unhealthy as the non-organic counterparts, even if it contains organic cane sugar instead of white sugar." A bottle of Honest brand Peach iced tea, Kaplan says, contains 25 grams sugar. "Greater than six teaspoons of sugar! "