Wait. Isn’t all sugar natural?
Technically, yes, but refined sugar has been so heavily processed by the time we consume it, it bears little physical or chemical resemblance to its original state. What we call ‘natural’ sugars vary in molecular composition and source. They can be found in fruits in the form of fructose, in the sap of a maple tree (which can be reduced into a thick maple syrup), or honey from within a bee hive. All of these sugars require no or minimal processing before consumption, and are broken down differently by your body than refined sugars are.
Refined sugars originate from sugar canes, but must undergo intensive processing in factories to turn them into the familiar white table sugar we know so well. In addition to being the subject of this environmentally destructive practice, refined sugar is broken down very quickly in the body, leading to a huge spike in blood sugar, followed by a surge in insulin production, and ultimately, the famous lethargy that comes with a sugar crash. Because of this rapid digestion, refined sugar doesn’t leave you feeling full. On the flip side, the fibre in fruit slows down fructose metabolism, allowing your body’s satiety hormones to kick in and let you know you’re full.
We hate to break the news: refined sugar has managed to wriggle its way into way more food products than you might expect, making it hard to know what to go for at times.
There are several reasons why refined sugar might be added to foods. Most commonly, it is used as part of the recipe to balance underlying bitter flavours in products such as sauces or dressings. Additionally, it is used to give the product a longer shelf life. Sugar soaks up the available water in food products, meaning it acts as a preservative. In these cases, the “added sugars” must be declared on the label, as well as what kind of sugars they are.
We’ve put together a list of 8 common foods you might be surprised to find have substantial amounts of refined sugar added to them. As we run through this list, bear in mind that the NHS recommends about 30g, or 7 teaspoons, of sugar per day for an adult.
Slathered on burgers and tubs of chips across the world, the bright red sauce is internationally adored. Maybe its the refined sugar in it that’s got everyone hooked! A typical Heinz ketchup bottle is 25% sugar. Barbecue sauce is no better; a mere 2 tablespoons contain 10g of sugar! Of course, you can make these sauces from scratch yourself, but maybe a more practical option is to seek out “no added sugar” versions of these classic condiments.
A breakfast staple in the UK, and a fundamental of any fan of the outdoors, baked beans are hugely popular on this little island. However, a 200g tin of M&S beans carries the equivalent of 3 sugar cubes. This discovery was particularly stressed in the press a few years ago, and since then, the availability of “no added sugar” varieties have increased.
Tomato-based products with a long shelf-life will almost always contain some added refined sugar. Luckily, in this instance, the solution is simple. Simply make your own tomato sauce! Wellness Mama has a great recipe on her website that doesn’t use any refined sugar at all.
If asked “do fizzy drinks contain sugar?”, you’d probably answer in the affirmative. However, surprisingly, these aren’t always the first things that come to mind when we think about cutting out refined sugar. It can be easy to overlook drinks when concerning ourselves with diet. While there are several well-known sugar-free versions of these on the market, you might want to think twice before lunging for them to satisfy your craving. There is evidence to suggest an association between the artificial sweetners sugar-free fizzy drinks rely on, namely aspartame, and neurodegeneration. If you must appease a sweet-tooth, stick to 100% fruit juice (with no added sugar!).
You might think canned fruit to be relatively healthy, and you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. While the canned fruit itself and its nutritional value remains more or less intact, the heavy syrup it is preserved in is the sugary culprit. For perspective, half a cup of pears canned in their own juice contains roughly 40% of your daily sugar allowance. Stick with fresh fruit for maximum nutrition with minimal calories.
When we talk about salad dressings and health, it is usually its fat content that takes centre-stage. However, it is also important to beware of dressings advertised as “low-fat”. To make up for the loss in flavour, low-fat dressings will typically compensate by adding more refined sugar. Substitute it instead with a simple, home-made vinaigrette: olive oil, balsamic vinegar, french mustard, and salt!
Unfortunately, fruit yogurts fall into the same pit as salad dressings. Yogurts advertised as “low-fat” will generally contain much more sugar than their full-fat counterparts. Muller Corners, for example, were found to contain 21-30g of sugar per serving! Granted, some of this was due to naturally occuring sugars like lactose, but the majority was found to be added sugar of the refined variety. Currently, there is no way to differentiate between naturally occuring sugars and refined, added sugars on food product nutrition value labels. The only way to have an idea of a product’s sugar content is to check the ingredients list for added sugars.
Last on our list is an assortment of Asian-style sauces. Staples such as teriyaki, Thai sweet chili, and hoisin are all made with significant amounts of brown sugar. A few years ago it emerged that Pret a Manger’s Hoisin Duck Wrap contained 3g of sugar, more than their Milk Chocolate Bar!
This list is by no means exhaustive! If buying lunch from a local food vendor during the work week, don’t be afraid to ask if they use refined sugar! Or give Feedr a call and we can recommend some refined-sugar-free meal options and have them delivered right to your office!