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Hidden Sugars 101

Did you know that the average Canadian consumes almost a 1/2 cup of sugar a day? That's 110 g of sugar daily. No wonder dental caries is the number 1 most common chronic disease in children - YUP, it's considered a chronic disease, even if it's 'only' in the mouth.

So, in the spirit of April: National Oral Health Month, we're going to talk about ways sugar just sneaks into your diet. Sometimes, it's the shear quantity of sugar in a food product that surprises you. Sometimes, it's just mixed into foods without you knowing about it.

Here are some unexpected ways sugar can make its way into your diet:

1) Fancy coffee shop drink

Ok, so unless you're ordering these unsweetened, you would know that there's going to be sugar.

But did you ever check out exactly how much sugar is in that beverage?

As a rough guide a grande pumpkin spice latte contains about 50 grams of sugar. Have a drink every weekday at work - and you've had yourself a full cup of sugar.

Many popular ice cream parlours can also prepare you a milkshake. So, looking into a brand name franchise - a regular size of 16 oz of milkshake can supply you with 82 grams of sugar. Of course, this'll always depend on which flavours you're choosing, but that sounds like a lot of sugar that you don't need - that your teeth don't need!

2) Sauces, dressings, and condiments

Always check the sugar content of any sauces and dressings you use because very rarely do we stick to the recommended serving sizes! In fact, someone else has already written about it, so check out this article from Insider.

Also be wary of the sugar content in sauces at restaurants - not just their salad dressings, but the stuff topping your rice dish or noodles. They are meant to taste good, so don't be surprised if they're loaded with fat, sugar and salt! Ask for it to be placed on the side, so at least you can control how much goes on top.

If you need to visualize the amounts, use water to measure out how much of Product A you're consuming. Then measure out how much sugar that equates to. You might be surprised that that innocent-looking ketchup on your fries turns out to be a bigger whopper than you expected.

3) And then, there are synonyms for sugar

Call it by any other name and sugar will still have the same effect on your teeth.

Yup, some of it is sneaky marketing (you know - those 'healthy' granola bars, covered and infused with high fructose corn syrup, glucose solids, date sugar, 'unrefined' brown sugar, date sugar, etc.) Unfortunately, while some of them sound quite good-for-you like 'unrefined'...and 'dates' sounds like it came from a plant, they're still extracting and isolating the sugars to concentrate the flavours (and the bad effects on your teeth!) Read all ingredients list as well as the nutritional info and compare it to this list of 56 common sugars that are lurking in your food.

As a side note, ongoing research on the sugar substitute, Xylitol, may suggest that it helps prevent the formation of decay. Read about it here.

4) Fruit juices and smoothies

Yup, fruit has sugar as well - but it contains sugar-stabilizing fibres when compared to the juice-only.

While a similar argument could be made for smoothies - that it contains beneficial fibre - you're potentially consuming a much larger amount when you run fresh fruits through a blender than when you manually chew through it all.

With fruit products, also be weary that the acids can also damage the enamel of your teeth. So at the very least, remember to rinse your mouth with water after consumption.

5) Bottled tea/Iced tea/Some looseleaf tea

So you may have jumped on the Healthy Tea Bandwagon and have been enjoying it ever since. But, the type of tea you choose may contain hidden sugars. Ones that are grab-and-go are often flavoured and sweetened.

Go for looseleaf when you can and go as basic as you can (that is, the ingredients list should only show one type of tea or a simple blend). Fair warning, some trendy boutique tea shops create special concoctions - and sometimes they contain candy pieces, artificial flavours, fruit pieces and sweeteners that you didn't ask for!

6) Packaged instant oats/cereals/granola bars

Ever wonder why the kids always prefer the instant, add-hot-water-and-eat type oats over slow-cooked? It's probably because these 'healthy check-marked' foods are loaded with processed sugars! It doesn't fair much better than the sugary-marshmallow dried cereals or 'healthy-looking' granola bars, to be honest.

One popular brand of instant oats (fake fruit flavour) fills 1/3 of each packet with pure sugar! No wonder it's more popular than home-cooked!

7) Be wary of fruit-flavoured anything

Yes, many times, some of the sugar will come directly from the fruit. But then companies load it up with excess sugar on top as well as 20 different types of sugar - perhaps to get consistent flavour? Well, we suppose that's one way 🙄🙄. Unfortunately, this includes jams, dried fruit as well as canned fruit.

Just go for natural fruit - YES - it'll still have sugars, but at least it's not the processed white sugar. And remember to rinse out with water.

8) Sports drinks

This is probably another area that received some friendly marketing advice - it sure sounds like a healthy alternative, but they are often filled with sugar.

One 16 oz bottle of a popular brand contains almost 30 grams of sugar. Considering that teenagers chug these down most likely without looking at the nutrition info, this is quite concerning.

9) Prepared Tart foods

So, when you're consuming foods that are sour - or even ones with a hint of sour, the common solution is to add a bunch of sugar.

For example - lemonade, limeade, lemon curd, tomato sauce, apple pies made with green apples, etc. The sugar helps to balance out the tartness so it's 'palatable'.

10) Processed Simple Carbohydrate foods

So, we're talking white, processed breads, pastas, rice, etc.

In the world of carbohydrates, we've got simple carbs and complex carbs. Complex carbs have sugar, but also sugar-balancing fibre, and often a spectrum of beneficial vitamins and minerals. Simple carbs are sugar molecules that are easily broken down by the body - fruits have a lot of them, but a lot of complex carbs are refined to become simple. For example - rice. Brown rice would be the 'complex carbohydrate' version - it's a whole grain, with a tough outer shell. It's got a slightly higher fat content (which also helps stabilize sugar), some protein and some minerals like calcium and magnesium. Once you remove the outer husk, it becomes white rice and is mostly starchy, refined carbohydrate. It still contains some of its original nutritional profile, but it's significantly less.

And there you have it - our list of top 10 foods with hidden sugars. So, if you ever ran into the situation where the dentist found a lot of cavities in your mouth - but you don't even eat a lot of sweets - be on the lookout for hidden sugars in your diet!

Photo Credit for #8


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