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5 "Healthy" Foods That May Contain Sneaky Sugar, From A Celeb Nutrition Expert

JJ Virgin, CNS, BCHN
Nutrition Specialist & New York Times best seller
By JJ Virgin, CNS, BCHN
Nutrition Specialist & New York Times best seller
JJ Virgin is a certified nutrition specialist, board certified holistic nutritionist, certified exercise physiologist, and New York Times best-selling author.
Image by Tatjana Zlatkovic / Stocksy
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September 15, 2021

No matter how well you eat, I can almost guarantee that sneaky sugar is making its way into your diet. But don't worry! Even the most health-conscious among us struggle to know everywhere sugar is hiding and how to be aware of it.

It also doesn't help that food manufacturers continue to spend major dollars convincing us that certain less nutritious foods are somehow good for us, slapping shiny health halos on their packaging to throw us off the trail. But you've got this—just keep this info in your back pocket the next time you head to the grocery store.

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Learn to be a sugar detective.

Knowing what to look for—on food labels, in the coffee shop line, and on the menu at your favorite local bistro—will go a long way toward helping you ditch sneaky sugars from your diet.

Of course, it's not always so simple. Many "healthy" yogurts you'll find at the store are loaded with about 15 grams or more of sugar—that's the same as swallowing 3 or 4 teaspoons of the sweet stuff. Likewise, countless "protein bars" are just glorified candy bars with some extra nutrients thrown in, plus a few other insidious ingredients that can mess with your gut.

The most important thing to remember as you try to decrease your sugar intake is that you're not powerless against its forces. When you lower your sensitivity to sugar, you can support metabolic balance and flexibility.

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The top sneaky sugar sources.

I won't list every single food in my sneaky sugar inventory (you can read the full list here), but below are some of the top culprits I see over and over again:

1.

Dressings, sauces, and condiments

These landmines of sugar are everywhere, lurking in your refrigerator and hiding behind restaurant menus, just waiting to send your blood sugar skyrocketing. Some of the biggest offenders are balsamic vinegar (not the real deal that takes years to age but the commercial stuff that's loaded with caramel coloring and cornstarch), "fat-free" salad dressings, pasta and pizza sauces, barbecue and steak sauces, ketchup (there are about 4 grams of sugar in a single tablespoon), honey mustard, and teriyaki sauce.

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2.

Nut butters

A number of commercial nut butters are loaded with sugar. This truly seems ridiculous because all you really need is one ingredient to make this tasty spread: the nut itself. Always be sure to read the labels closely, and look out for added sugars, along with unhealthy oils. (Here's a list of mindbodygreen's favorite nut butters to get you started.)

3.

Wheat bread

Many commercial wheat breads come stripped of gut-healthy fiber and are loaded with the same added sugar and preservatives as processed white bread. In his book Food: What the Heck Should I Eat? Mark Hyman, M.D., reveals that "eating two slices of whole wheat bread raises your blood sugar more than eating 2 teaspoons of table sugar does!" To avoid having a refined sugar sandwich, I recommend gluten-free rice wraps or coconut wraps instead. 

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4.

Bottled teas

Green tea deservedly earns a health halo, but loading it with sugar (as some manufacturers do) puts it on the fast track to a blood sugar spike. Do yourself a favor and opt for the unsweetened green tea varieties (or better yet, brew your own). You can even stir in my JJ Sprinkles for added sweetness and zero grams of sugar.

5.

Protein smoothies

While protein smoothies are one of my go-to's in a healthy diet, so many commercial protein powders come loaded with added sugar, artificial sweeteners, soy, dairy, and other ingredients I recommend avoiding. Want a wonderful option to try at home? Try my immune-supporting smoothie recipe. You'll get a fast, nourishing, and satisfying breakfast (or any meal) that keeps you full and focused for hours.

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The takeaway.

Once you learn to identify sneaky sugars, you'll be well on your way to better overall health. As you'll learn in my Sugar Impact Diet book, you don't need to eliminate sugar all at once. If your goal is to limit sugar in your diet, I recommend slowly tapering off the sweet stuff—before you know it, you'll be well on your way to achieving that goal!

JJ Virgin, CNS, BCHN
JJ Virgin, CNS, BCHN
Nutrition Specialist & New York Times best seller

JJ Virgin, CNS, BCHN, is a celebrity nutrition and fitness expert who helps clients lose weight fast by breaking free from food intolerance. A certified nutrition specialist, board certified Holistic Nutritionist, and Certified Exercise Physiologist, she is the author of the New York Times best-sellers The Virgin Diet: Drop 7 Foods, Lose 7 Pounds, Just 7 Days and The Virgin Diet Cookbook: 150 Easy and Delicious Recipes to Lose Weight and Feel Better Fast.