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How to identify hidden sugar in food

identify hidden sugar in food

How can you identify hidden sugar in food? Our guide explains what to look for on labels — and which foods to avoid to escape ‘sugar traps’…

Many foods contain plenty of sugar. As long as we are aware of this, it is not a major problem either, because the consumption of these foods can be deliberately restricted. It is well known that chocolate, cakes and cola contain a lot of sugar. 

Unfortunately, however, there are also a lot of treacherous sugar traps that quickly cause the daily recommended intake to be significantly exceeded. We will show you which foods contain hidden sugarand sanitised and the tricks the food industry is using to try to hide sugar.

Find more health advice and food guides.

1. Sugar causes serious illnesses

The biggest problem of the 21st century, besides hunger in the world, is above all the preponderance in the richer states of the world.
Despite medical advances that make an ever longer life possible, life expectancy is barely increasing. Lack of exercise and severe obesity leads to numerous diseases, such as diabetes and heart problems,which drastically shorten life.

Good to know: According to WHO guidelines, the recommendation for daily sugar consumption is about 5% of the total amount of energy consumed, which is why it is important to identify hidden sugar in food. 

Nutritionists also agrees with this assessment and promotes a maximum quantity of 10% sugar. At 2000 calories (kcal) per day, this means that you should not consume more than 25 grams of sugar, but not more than 50 grams of sugar. 

In addition to fat, too much sugar is mainly responsible for the weight problems, so everyone should think about whether and to what extent sugar is still part of life.

If you eat a piece of cake every day, sweeten your coffee with sugar or just can’t resist the chocolate, you can calculate your energy balance quite well and think about whether a rethink and renunciation at one point or another would make sense when you want to identify hidden sugar in food.

However, it is not only the threat of obesity that threatens to be particularly problematic for high sugar consumption, but also the emergence of craving attacks and a kind of addiction.

Those who are already accustomed to a high sugar content as a child must expect withdrawal symptoms if this is to be reduced later. The body is tired and sluggish and there is a lack of drive when sugar is not permanently available.

This vicious circle is exacerbated by the fact that the body degrades sugar very quickly, so that supplies must be provided constantly.

2. Labels to identify hidden sugar in food

Often it is not immediately apparent which products contain sugar.

Sugar is not healthy, but it is also not necessary to completely dispense with sugar in foods.
However, it is complicated when food manufacturers try to trick consumers and design the list of ingredients on the package in such a way that hardly anyone knows what is behind the names.

An easy way, where you don’t have to acquire any additional knowledge about the various sugar names, is to completely dispense with finished products. Unfortunately, however, this is often difficult to implement in practice, so that sooner or later one or the other finished product will be used again.

Although there is no uniform definition of hidden sugar, it mainly affects products for which we would not typically suspect sugar.

In addition, sugar is common under many different names. For example, similar names are often found on the list of ingredients of finished products.

Dextrose, glucose, sucrose, fructose, glucose syrup, barley malt extract, caramel syrup, maltodextrin or starch syrup are common names for sugar in food.

However, sugar is of course not only contained in artificial products, but also in honey or agave syrup, which are often offered as an alternative to classic household sugar.

To maintain your health, take a closer look at the label on foods, even if you think there should be no sugar in sausage or natural yoghurt.

3. Typical sugar traps – identify hidden sugar in food

identify hidden sugar in food

Savoury foods also very often contain hidden sugars.

In the following sections we will introduce you to some foods where an immensely high sugar content is particularly common. Please note, however, that the use of sweetener in the form of aspartame or the use of steviado not necessarily make it better.

There are numerous studies that support the harmfulness of sweeteners. However, many foods are still advertised as healthy as they do not contain sugar and sweetener instead.

In the case of stevia, the effects have not yet been fully clarified. What seems clear, however, is that stevia stimulates the feeling of hunger and thus contributes to people eating more.

It is particularly sad that the food industry does not seem to be aware of its responsibilities, as sugar is found in high quantities mainly in children’s or baby foods. It is simply cheap and provides a good (albeit artificial) taste.

Incidentally, it is a common misconception that brown sugar is healthier than white sugar. The chemical composition is almost identical and the nutrient traces of the brown sugar are so small that you can neglect them.

3.1. Hidden sugar in beverages

identify hidden sugar in food

Various drinks contain a lot of sugar.

We absorb a large part of the sugar not through food, but through drinks. Water, unsweetened teas and coffee without sugar should therefore serve as a basis for you.

Even supposedly healthy drinks, such as apple juice or orange juice, contain a lot of fructose and are therefore by no means unrestrictedly recommended.

Already with a glass of apple juice (250 ml) you can absorb 25 g of sugar and thus cover your daily maximum. Orange juice contains only a negligible reduction in sugar at about 20 g.

3.2. These foods contain particularly high hidden sugar

Some foods that contain a lot of sugar, we have listed in the following table:

Low-fat (fruit) yoghurt: The lower fat content is replaced by a higher sugar content.Mix yoghurt with regular fat content with fresh fruit that will give natural sweetness
Frozen fruit or canned fruit: Sugar is added to many packs. Therefore, pay attention to the supplement ‘without added sugar’, as the sugar content on the label is otherwise difficult to determine, because the fruits naturally contain fructose.
In the case of canned fruit, however, it looks dark, as they are full of sugar (up to 19 grams per 100 grams) and contain hardly any meaningful nutrients.
Access fresh fruit or pay attention to unsweetened fruit.
Ketchup and ready-made sauces: In addition to tomatoes, classic tomato ketchup mainly contains sugar. About 23 g per 100 grams are typical. With spice ketchup and salad dressings, the numbers are even more frightening.Just make salad sauces or ketchup yourself. Unlike ketchup, passed tomatoes do not contain sugar and serve as an excellent base.
The own salad dressing works very well with some oil, vinegar, natural yoghurt and a fruit puree for the intense taste.
Sausages in the Light version: In general, manufacturers use sugar as well as fat as flavour carriers. So bet on the supposedly better version, you usually eat more sugar.Ham is a natural product that contains only (too much) salt.
Finished salads: Whether you prefer potato salad, sausage salad or cabbage salad, all these varieties contain a lot of sugar. This can quickly account for up to a quarter of the total.Make your own salads to check exactly whether you really want to add sugar to a savoury salad.
Ready-made pizza: You have to expect 10 grams of sugar with an average pizza.The homemade as well as the pizza in the restaurant usually do without sugar and both versions are also much more delicious.

4. Tips for a healthy life with low sugar


Now you know how treacherous some foods are and what hidden sugar can be. With the following tips, however, you can be able to avoid these traps in a targeted way and thus contribute to your own health.

  • Avoid sodas and other sweetened beverages.
  • Cook as fresh as possible.
  • Focus on recipes that focus on natural ingredients.
  • Take a close look at the nutrition table.
  • Pay attention to containing sugar substitutes such as aspartame, sorbitol, saccharin or even natural sweeteners such as stevia and avoid them as much as possible.

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