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Foods Surprisingly High in Sugar

Pink Ice Creams

Posted: 25/08/2017

Updated: 25/08/2017

Just when Jamie Oliver introduced the sugar tax, companies took a different approach by providing the world with "healthier choices" and these food items have been appearing in the supermarket promotion aisles.


As the world is now becoming more health-conscious, the food industry has started to place terms such as “low-fat”, “all-natural”, “fat-free”, and “sugar-free” on food products.


However, they have hidden the fact that those deemed to be everyday healthy foods are full of unrefined sugars. People have been fixating on the importance of low fat and unwittingly have been promoting foods high in sugars.


The SACN recommends the daily consumption of refined sugars to be under 30g per day but many products exceed these guidelines! However, it should be noted that having sugar in moderation in our diet is fine and it is important that we do not demonise sugar! It is more important to focus on our overall diet rather than pinpointing a single component of our diet. 


Here is a list of common foodstuff that has surprisingly high levels of sugars.

What you serve with matters! Both bowls contain the same amount of cereal but the right bowl causes an illusion of having less than normal.

Traffic light system for Sugars in Food

What is High

per 100 grams

What is Medium

per 100 grams

What is Low

per 100 grams

Based on guidelines by the Department of Health.

Sugar tax?

According to the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, the introduction of 10-pence levy on sugar-sweetened beverages in Jamie's Italian Restaurants has likely to contribute to a significant decline in sales of sugary beverages.


Cereals are termed as high in sugar if they have more than 22.5 grams of total sugars per 100 grams and low in sugar if they have 5 grams of total sugars or less per 100 grams. By using this range, sugar levels in cereals are separated into different categories (high, moderate, and low).


Note: Be aware of portion sizes - most servings are around 30 to 40 grams as indicated on the nutrition label. However, many people who use a soup bowl may consume nearly 3 times of the serving sizes! 

Sugars from high to low

Moderate in sugar (5.0 to 22.5grams/100g)

Low in sugars (less than 5 grams per 100 grams)

Although all these cereals listed are packed with important vitamins and minerals, we should substitute them with healthier options that have a lower sugar content. 


For a healthier option, choose breakfast cereals that contain whole grains:

  • wholewheat cereal biscuits

  • shredded wholegrain 

  • porridge oats

2. Cereal Bars

Cereal bars may seem like a healthy and convenient choice when you're late for work. But actually, like other health bars, these contain similar sugar content like candy bars. Most contain very little fibre and are loaded with sugar. All of these are considered to be high in sugars.

Health Bars

In this category, I've included slimming bars, protein bars and "healthy" bars. Protein bars are surfacing in health shops and in the healthy aisles in supermarkets. As protein can aid muscle building and increase our satiety levels which may result in us eating less, people see it as a healthy alternative. However, many of these contain high levels of sugars and you should reconsider if these bars are really as healthy as they seem.

3. Yoghurt

Yoghurts especially those that are labelled as "Low Fat", tend to have high levels of sugar being added to enhance flavour. Artificial sweeteners such as sucralose and aspartame may also be added. These sweeteners are not counted as free sugars and provide negligible amounts of calories.


However, yoghurt provides many health benefits. It contains protein and calcium needed for healthy bones and teeth. Some have fortified vitamin D to increase calcium absorption. 


If you are trying to avoid sugar, it is best to choose full-fat, natural or Greek yoghurt.

Typical serving size: 120 grams

4.Sauces And Dressings

Typical condiments like ketchup, mayonnaise, BBQ sauce, and salad dressings like Caesar dressing and French vinaigrette are consumed on a day to day basis. While a tablespoon serving will not hurt us, most people consume way more than this. 

What does 1 tablespoon (15 grams) look like?

People typically consume way more than 1 tablespoon. Remember the last time you had fries? You have probably added around 3 tablespoons or more of ketchup on them! (Picture source: Huffingtonpost Your Ketchup Addiction is Basically Sugar Addiction).



Light versions have higher sugar contents but reduced fat. Mayonnaise does not contain as much sugar as other condiments.

BBQ Sauce

Brown Sauce

Balsamic Vinegar

Salad Dressings


1. The creamier the sauce, the higher in fat, saturated fats, and calories

this is due to the added oil and egg yolks


2. Salad cream compared to mayonnaise

contains half the calories and only a third of the fat

but higher in sugar and salt

3. Lighter versions have more added flavours, thickeners, and preservatives

but lower in calories and total fat


4. Balsamic vinegar can contain high levels of sugar

Take home message

Although small amounts of added sugars are fine, larger amounts can cause serious damage over time. Of course, it would be best to make your own meals at home but sometimes pre-packaged foods are inevitable in our daily hectic life. If you do buy pre-packaged food, remember to check the label to make better choices!

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