Hidden Sugars

Sugar has had a lot of bad press recently; being blamed for a number of health conditions such as diabetes and obesity as well cancer, ageing and more. Author: C. Cheeseman RD

Hidden Sugars

Sugar has had a lot of bad press recently; being blamed for a number of health conditions such as diabetes and obesity as well cancer, ageing and more. Eating too much 'free' sugar is bad for you. Research has shown that diets high in these sugars can lead to dental caries and weight gain as well as having a role in conditions such as diabetes and obesity. It is therefore recommended that 'free' sugars are limited to just 10% of your calorie intake

'Free' sugars are easily digested and absorbed by the body, leading to large spikes in blood sugar levels shortly after being eaten. They are found in foods such as sweets, cakes, biscuits, fizzy drinks, fruit juices and table sugar or syrup and honey. However, aside from the obvious sweet foods, 'free' sugars can be found hidden in a number of different foods and food products, including in many foods marketed as being 'healthy' or 'diet'. Sugar is often added to improve the taste or extend the shelf life of foods. However, government health bodies and nutrition and dietetic associations are now working closely with food manufacturers to reduce the levels of sugar in many food products. But, as there will always be high sugar foods available, it is still important to know what foods are likely to be high in 'free' sugars.

The best way to tell if a food is high in sugar is to read the label. Nearly all packaged foods will give the amount of sugar per 100g of food. As a general rule, a food low in sugar will have less than 5g sugar per 100g and a food high in sugar will have more than 15g per 100g. Alternatively, read the ingredients list; if one of the top 3-5 listed ingredients is sugar, any type of syrup or honey, molasses, agave or any word ending in 'ose' (such as glucose, sucrose or fructose), it is likely to be high in sugar.

For those days when you just don't have time to check the labels, here is a list of 6 major foods that often contain hidden sugars (some may surprise you) and some tasty low sugar alternatives

Fruit Juices

Fruit juice is good for you, providing lots of important vitamins, however, the natural fruit sugars are no longer contained within the fibre of the fruit and will therefore have the same affect on your blood sugars as other sugary drinks. Therefore, limit juice to 150 ml per day. Instead make up up the rest of your fluid intake with low sugar cordials or fruity herbal teas.


All alcohol is essentially empty calories that contains a lot of sugar. However, cocktails are the worst of a bad bunch, containing heaps of sugar as a result of the mixture of alcohol, juice, sugar and syrups. If you want a refreshing alcoholic treat, go for a measure of spirit such as vodka or gin with a diet soda, tonic or fizzy drink instead.

Sauces and Condiments

Sweet chilli, barbecue, tomato; all these sauces have one thing in common - heaps of hidden sugar. Sugar contents do vary brand to brand so its best to read labels where you can. However, mustard and mayonnaise tend to be some of better options. No added sugar options are also available for many popular sauces. Alternatively flavour foods with herbs, spices, vinegar or lemon juice instead.


Choosing the right yoghurt can be tricky; low fat options are generally recommended, however some low fat yogurts contain heaps of sugar improve the taste. Yoghurts that have added fruit coulis, or chocolate pieces will also be high in sugar. Your best option is to choose a full fat natural yoghurt and limit your portion -team it with fresh fruit or extra flavour. Alternatively, compare the labels - some 'diet' yoghurts will be low in sugar and fat but always check.

Cereals and Cereal Bars

Many cereals and cereal bars are very high in sugar, often coated in sugar, honey or have large quantities of sugar-coated dried fruits. Many of these high sugar varieties are still marketed as being healthy such as muesli or flavoured porridge oats. Instead, choose plain oats and cook with milk or water as usual and add your own fruit or flavourings. You can get lower sugar cereal bars but the best way to ensure you get tasty low sugar bars is to make a batch of your own homemade bars.

Raw/natural/'healthy' foods

There are plenty of raw and natural products available now, in particular desserts, cakes and balls. Be careful - just because they have not been cooked or contain only natural products does not mean they are sugar free - honey, agave nectar and syrups are common main ingredients. These count as 'free' sugars and should be limited.

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