Where does sugar hide in food? Not just where you know already.

I know you are a smart one and I am sure you have noticed all the information out there alerting you about the many products where sugar has been added unnecessarily. Well, not completely unnecessarily since it is needed as a flavour enhancer and as a preservative to extend the shelf life. But from a nutritional point of view, it has no purpose whatsoever and rather contributes to havoc your general wellbeing — yes, once again I need to stress that the dangers of refined sugar are not just about weight gain: we are talking here about interferences with your mood, your ageing process and your brain functions.

Ok, let’s assume you have an idea but let’s also say that we could ALL use a little reminder.

We can find a lot of added sugar in:

  • fruit juices
  • yoghurts
  • breakfast cereals
  • tomato sauce
  • breads
  • ketchup, teriyaki, barbeque sauces and 90% of salad dressings
  • energy snacks and granola bars
  • sodas, bottled teas and flavoured water, sports drinks as explained in this blog post
  • cocktails

I am sure you are already aware of these tricky sources of nutritionally empty sugars and that you already take the trouble to read through the ingredients labels before you decide whether to consume them or not.

However, these days I am coming across even more items that contain sugar that I don’t intentionally want to eat and this is making my life more interesting every day.

Just a few days ago I wanted to buy some magnesium because I was going through a stressful time and not sleeping well. I went to a very trustworthy organic health food store and pharmacy and asked the therapist for advice. They did not store the type I usually would take so she had me buy the best brand they had and I felt happy and satisfied with my purchase. Except when I actually tasted it at home I immediately realised how sweet it was! Yes, some unspecified sweetener (literally, the label only says “sweetener”) had been added to it.

Why?!?! Aren’t we grown-ups supposed to be able to ingest some beneficial supplement even if it doesn’t exactly taste like candy?

That reminded me it wasn’t the first time I had been tricked into a sugar overdosage when purchasing a natural supplement. Last time it was a “tonic” that was mostly fructose and honey. But either way, I am guilty of not checking the labels! My bad.

But then I ran a quick check on chewable vitamins, cough syrups and drugs manufactured for kids. Yes, they all had added sugar.

Even toothpaste is sweetened, usually with sodium saccharine. Both for kids and adults. Does it make sense?

And did I tell you that also baby formula contains added sugar? Many may argue that breast milk is naturally sweet. It’s true. However, our nutritionist Dr Sara Garduno Diaz points out that breast milk composition changes depending on the baby’s needs and it adjusts as required, changing its fat, protein and carbs (sugar) content. The baby formula doesn’t. I know, sadly, some mothers have no other options they can turn to.

Speaking of milk, pay attention also when you browse the shelves for dairy-free alternatives. We are talking here all nut-based “milks” but also soy, rice, quinoa, oats, etc, especially chocolate and vanilla flavoured ones.

From milk to milkshakes, be aware of all healthy shakes, including smoothies and vegan protein shakes. Come on, let’s be honest. Who can genuinely claim they love the taste of plain pea protein powder or hemp protein powder? I can’t, but if I were in need to up my protein intake with a shake, I would still go for plain powder options and play around with homemade almond mylk and vanilla or cinnamon powder maybe. Many shake powders are sweetened with stevia, a very natural form of sugar, definitely the less harmful one, but it is very rarely added in its pure form (it is normally mixed with less innocent sweeteners such as erythritol or maltodextrin).

Where to next?

Not only breakfast cereals are not immune from sugar additions, but also other breakfast meals, such as instant flavoured porridge that can boast up to 27g of sugar, aren’t. Yep, almost your recommended daily intake limit. Check out this screenshot from google, you can try too.

(don’t get confused here: the overnight oats you make from scratch are a thumb up)

Choose wisely when you buy your nut butters too. Generally, I have considered nut butters a very comforting and safe source of good fats and proteins and they even play a fairly important role in Sugarlibre recipes. We use plain unsalted, unsweetened organic nut butters. Today, however, their popularity has increased and they have transformed into scrumptious spreads. Nothing wrong about them, they are probably delicious. Just be aware that sweeteners have been added to make them gourmet style.

Now, let’s switch to the savoury section.

Flavoured chips and crackers. I am sorry but, hey, not to be staples in your diet anyway.

Vegetarian and vegan burgers, nuggets and sausages. There, I said it. The majority of processed food has sugar in it, even organic food. As we said earlier, sugar is used to enhance the flavour of the recipe, to give structure and also as a preservative. So, no wonder you will find it in the list of the ingredients. Normally it is not a big amount but it adds up. Maybe you can try and make your own burgers. You can batch-prep and freeze them too..

As for the real meat, sugar is used also in cured meat and smoked salmon. “Sugar is a minor part of the composite flavour, with bacon being an exception. Because of the tremendous amount of salt used, sugar serves to reduce the harshness of the salt in cured meat and enhance the sweetness of the product (ie. Sweet Lebanon Bologna). Sugar also serves as a nutrient source for the flavour-producing bacteria of meat during long curing processes.” You can read more here.

I must say I am kind of excited at the prospect of investigating further through the market aisles but I do not want this to become an obsessive behaviour for anyone. What I can say is that added sugar is not completely avoidable in this society. I made peace with it. However, sugar remains a substance we should not indulge. That is why the best thing we could do is to put our sweet tooth to rest so that we are able to turn down at least the undisguised sources of sugar like cakes and candies. It is hard, but also easier than you think.

Let’s do this.

– This post was made possible thanks to the contribution of our community, The Sugarlibre Tribe, who are so invested in the mission and are contributing so much to the development of a safer and food obsession free lifestyle. Thank you guys.
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