Hidden sugars in foods: how to recognize them and buy healthy

Hidden sugars in foods: how to recognize them and buy healthy


On the market there are many foods that contain more or less modest quantities of “hidden” sugars. The first thing to do when placing a product in your shopping cart is to read the labels carefully. An action that could take away a few more minutes from shopping, but which would guarantee greater awareness in shopping. Hidden sugars in unsuspected foods are much more common than you think. They are present in canned vegetables, cured meats, cereals , sauces and even frozen minestrone and this leads to an unconscious increase in the amount of sugar consumed every day, sugar which, remember, causes: insomnia, decrease in energy, skin problems but it can favor the onset of diabetes , increases the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease and tumors.

Sugar: how much to consume?

In general, it is always recommended by nutritionists to reduce the amount of sugar taken especially from packaged foods, responsible for at least half of the sugar ration that we introduce into our body on a daily basis. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends  not exceeding the dose of simple sugars equal to 10% of the daily caloric intake . For example, if you eat a 1500- calorie diet , this amount will correspond to about 6 teaspoons of sugar per day. Although this recommendation mainly refers to added sugarswhich are found in packaged and industrial foods, not naturally in food such as fruit ( fructose ) or milk and cheese ( lactose ).



Hidden sugars: where are they found?

The presence of sugar is always indicated on the labels affixed to the packaging of various foods but, often, one does not have the foresight and good habit of reading it. This leads to an unwitting increase in sugar consumption. These are mostly ultra-processed foods, which have therefore undergone industrial processes for their conservation.

Hidden sugars are found in many foods, such as:

  • Tomato preserves and ready-made sauces (tomatoes are acidic in themselves and therefore sugar, such as bicarbonate for example , helps to balance the flavour );
  • Cured meats: in some types of cooked ham , mortadella and other pork sausages sugars are added during the processing phase. These are mostly cold cuts packaged in trays, with longer expiry dates. This indicates that sugars and preservatives are present ;
  • Frankfurters and sausages
  • Breakfast cereals with glazes, honey , chocolate , are obviously enriched with significant amounts of sugar.
  • Box bread has an excess of sugar which  helps the product to keep soft  (on average half a teaspoon of sugar per slice).
  • Powdered cocoa : often used by the little ones in milk, it contains sugar for three quarters of its composition;
  • Breading of packaged foods such as cutlets , fish au gratin, breaded vegetables . The sugar in the breading makes it much more crunchy;
  • Sauces : mayonnaise , ketchup, glazes (even balsamic vinegar based )
  • Fizzy drinks and fruit juices . Carbonated drinks are often produced with a large amount of sugar: but unfortunately this also applies to packaged juices (only 100% juices contain only natural fruit sugars);
  • Stews, soups and ready-to-eat dishes in which sugar is often used as a thickener , and adds creaminess to the preparations.
  • Yogurt and ” light ” cheeses , low in fats, but no sugars (pay attention to the labels).

Sugar addiction: why does it develop?

Why does sugar call sugar, i.e. the desire to keep eating sweets in rotation? Sugar creates a real addiction as it leads to an increase in the release of dopamine , a  neurotransmitter of the catecholamine  family  , with a control function on: movement, the so-called working memory, but above all on the sensation of pleasure, reward that triggers the desire to repeat the experience. And then to take even more sugar. Hence the difficulty in regulating one’s sugar consumption, despite the immediately visible damage (to the skin , teeth , weight gain ).

Attention to Etiquette

Fundamental, to “unmask” the hidden sugars in foods, as mentioned, is to carefully read what is indicated on the labels. It is not said that the word “sugar” is explicitly found, which however is present with other names. Usually, for convenience, we will say that they end with the suffix -osio, or -olo, but there are also so-called “natural” sugars, such as maple syrup , honey, grape sugar , apple juice . Their effect is very similar to that of sucrose .It is therefore necessary to pay attention to wordings such as “contains only fruit sugars” or “no added sugars”, because it does not mean that the product is completely sugar-free, but alternatives to the common sucrose may be found inside.

Here’s what to find on the label to understand if a food contains sugar:

  • sucrose
  • Brown sugar
  • fructose
  • lactose
  • maltose
  • dextrins
  • corn syrup with fructose
  • maltodextrins
  • mannitol
  • glucose syrup
  • malt syrup
  • concentrated apple juice
  • Maple syrup
  • rice syrup
  • sorghum syrup
  • agave juice
  • manna
  • invert sugar


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