You may be consuming untold grams of sugar every day without even knowing it
Q: I recently gave up my daily dessert-after-dinner habit and have stopped snacking on cookies after school with my kids. But my doctor says my blood glucose levels are still too high. What else can I do? —Mary E., Charleston, S.C.
A: First, congratulations on breaking yourself of the daily dessert and snacking habits. That’s a huge step toward lowering your blood glucose to healthy levels. The next step is to look for not-so-obvious sources of sugar that you may be eating, chewing, or drinking regularly without realizing it. And these can be as simple as the ketchup on your hamburger—or even the bun. Here are five of the most common sneaky forms of blood-sugar-spiking carbohydrates.
1. Condiments and Salad Dressings
Ketchup is a source of sugar, and so are ketchup-based French, Russian, and Thousand Island salad dressings, which have 9–10 grams of sugar per 2-Tbs. serving. Fruity vinaigrettes, such as raspberry or pomegranate, have similarly high amounts of sugar. Other sugar-laden condiments include teriyaki and barbecue sauces.
Suggestion: Make your own salad dressing out of olive oil, fresh lemon juice, red wine vinegar, garlic, and herbs. Opt for sugar-free mustard, salsa, or guacamole on burgers.
2. Bread and Grains
Many people have learned to avoid white flour products, but even whole-grain or gluten-free breads can cause serious spikes in blood sugar. Surprising as it may be, two slices of whole wheat bread will raise your blood sugar more than 2 Tbs. of table sugar will; gluten-free bread made from rice flour, cornstarch, or potato flour can raise your blood sugar even higher. Crackers made from grain-based flour have similar negative effects on blood sugar levels, and whole grains such as brown rice are only slightly better.
Suggestion: Limit or skip grains altogether, and include more nonstarchy vegetables such as mushrooms, asparagus, and broccoli in your diet. Instead of wheat or gluten-free bread, try coconut wraps or homemade tortillas made with almond flour and flaxseed.
All yogurts contain some sugar in the form of lactose (milk sugar). But fruit yogurts contain added sugar—often from sugar or high fructose corn syrup—and they can have up to 30 grams (6 tsp.) or more of sugar per serving.
Suggestion: If you aren’t milk intolerant, stick with full-fat, unsweetened, organic Greek yogurt. Make sure to read the label: It should contain no added sugar.
4. Liquid Sugar
Many of us avoid liquid sugar in the form of sodas, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Flavored hot or iced teas and lattes or other drinks from coffee shops are also potent sugar bombs. A nonfat flavored latte can contain a whopping 5 tsp. of sugar. Many “natural,” bottled ice teas are similarly packed with sugar, and fruit juices contain all the sugar found in fruit, without the fiber that slows down its release into the bloodstream.
Suggestion: Drop soda and fruit juice from your diet. Go for sparkling mineral water with a lemon wedge, or calorie-free, fruit-infused Hint water. Switch to unsweetened iced tea, and make a latte by adding unsweetened almond milk. Try mixing canned, unsweetened coconut milk in coffee.
5. Gum and Mints
Because we don’t swallow gum or breath mints, most of us don’t think of them as sugary additions to our diets—but they are. Some form of sugar is almost always the first ingredient in these small items, and I have had more than one client sabotage their goal of having healthy, steady blood sugar levels by habitually and absentmindedly chewing gum or sucking on breath mints.
Suggestion: It’s ideal to just kick these oral fixations. But if you’re hooked on the flavor of gum or breath mints, you can try chewing fresh mint leaves or sipping a glass of water flavored with mint essence, such as Metromint water. You can also try Spry chewing gum made with xylitol.