Foods with hidden sugars

Easter is finally approaching, and it's been a long 40 days without my frenemy, sugar. I've had bits of honey and maple syrup here and there, but overall, it's been difficult and has only confirmed how much sugar we eat in America and how it really is a huge mental crutch for me, especially in times of stress. To me, eating that piece of pie after a long and distressing phone call is worth every calorie. I now know I'm not messing around when I say I've GOT to find other methods to deal with stress, doubt, sadness, disappointment, what have you.

So without further adieu, since I've been scrutinizing food labels now during Lent more than ever, I wanted to share with you some specific food items that you wouldn't normally associate with sugar but really do add to the daily tally we consume here in the States. (I differentiate our country compared to others because so often different formulations for the same products manufactured by the same companies use different ingredients in other lands.) If you start to really look for it, you'll find it everywhere. I found it in the following foods and opted not to eat them during Lent as I gave up all refined added sugars:

  • Vegetable, chicken and beef broth (the only kind I found without sugar had MSG, which isn't the best trade-off) — BEST BET: Make your own stock from leftover beef or chicken bones or vegetable scraps. You can even do it in the slow cooker and just strain out any solids.
  • Deli chicken salad (it was in the mayonnaise component) — BEST BET: Sub in plain Greek yogurt instead of mayo in things like summer salads. You'll never know the difference.
  • Honey-roasted nuts. Mm-hmm. Sugar even came before honey in the ingredients list, actually. BEST BET: Eat some raw almonds. They fill you up...and can be rather addictive!
  • Pretty much any processed bread product or cracker. There are no two ways about it. The lengthy ingredients list should most often turn you off immediately, but it can be hard to live without bread and I for one have not mastered the bread machine yet! Even if it says 100% whole wheat, it's not always healthy. BEST BET: Find a local Great Harvest and buy their 5-ingredient Honey Whole Wheat bread. If you don't have one near by, really, consider baking your own. We're all crunched for time, but store-bought bread has so many additives, fillers, dough conditioners and likely GMO sugar that it makes me shake my head just thinking about it. If you can't find a Great Harvest and can't bake your own bread, rye has less gluten than whole wheat and I am hesitant to say it but I've heard that's better for you. Just try to find one with as few ingredients as possible, and if it's organic at the very least it will have no GMO ingredients.
  • Nut butters (including peanut). You know that you can literally make nut butter by just putting the nuts in your food processor for 5 minutes, right? You don't even have to add oil. So WHY, oh why, would you add SUGAR? I know our taste buds in America (thanks largely in part to Big Food) have grown way too accustomed and arguably addicted to sugar, salt and fat, but come on. Adding sugar to an an otherwise 1-ingredient food is low. BEST BET: Make it yourself with raw nuts (I've done it with almonds) or read the label and make sure you buy a jar with no added sugars.
  • Vitamins. Yes, vitamins! Not only do they have added colorings, even the ugly yellowish-orangish-brownish ones (tell me, what color IS that supposed to be, really, and if you're going to add colors can't you at least make them pretty?), but most vitamins (gummies of course) also contain sugar. Again. WHY? This is something we're not even chewing, in the case of those giant horse-pills. Why put sugar in something you're going to swallow whole? BEST BET: Go to the health-food store and find a raw vitamin. Put your foot down this time. Ridiculous.
  • Breakfast foods...you name it, it has sugar in it. Sausage. Waffles. Cereal. Toast. Jam. Pancakes. Unless you're making your own straight-up eggs and bacon, you're probably eating a sugar bomb every morning for breakfast. My meal of choice during Lent? Quinoa flakes (like oatmeal but gluten free) with honey and/or maple syrup and whatever fruit/raw nuts and seeds we have on hand. Takes under 2 minutes to make and is super filling and delicious. At the risk of sounding redundant...BEST BET: Cook something from scratch. And boiling water to "make" apples and cinnamon or peaches and cream instant oatmeal doesn't count.

Because I read so much about this stuff I think everyone knows what I know...but just so I'm sure YOU know, too, sugar of course also "hides" in yogurts, ketchup, tomato sauce; there are often added sugars in juices; don't even get me started on things like bottled dressings and marinades. Start reading labels. Imagine all the extra sugar you're consuming every day without even knowing it. And then, week by week, trade in the old versions of your favorite products for ones without added sugars or, better yet, homemade versions. One by one is the way to go and it will feel so good you'll want to rush out, dump everything and start fresh. But I don't recommend that, especially if you're following a budget. Just stay the course and do your best. Most of these items can be found at places like Trader Joe's, so you're not going to break the bank. Contrary to popular opinion, fresh, whole foods are often cheaper than their processed counterparts. They're guaranteed to have less sugar and you really will save money by saving your health in the end, too. I know envisioning heart disease or cancer down the road is grim and can seem very abstract, but be sensible and keep the natural foods movement going. Even if we're already bogged down with chemicals in our foods, cleaning products and daily use items, we can try to make a difference for future generations. Every choice counts, both for today and tomorrow!

Filed under: Healthy living

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