Quiz: Can You Spot the Sugar in Your Food?

Processed sugar hides in everyday food, threatening your weight, your blood sugar, and your heart. Guess which are the worst offenders.

Sugar Lowdown

Would you ever sprinkle sweetener on your bagel, or pour a packet of sugar on a hamburger? Sounds nasty, but unfortunately, food manufacturers have already done it for you. Hidden added sweeteners lurk in many unlikely foods, meaning your daily sugar intake may be higher than you ever imagined. Worse, they’re filling you with empty calories that spike your blood sugar, pack on pounds, and increase your risk for high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.

In the sugar showdowns that follow, use your food IQ to guess which item has more teaspoons of processed sugar or corn syrup. You’ll be shocked!

Sugar Showdown: Yogurt vs. Granola Bar

Which has more added sugar: A nonfat fruit-flavored yogurt, or one regular-sized/two small granola bars?

Answer: Yogurt

While one regular-sized granola bar or two small granola bars have only two teaspoons of added sugar, a nonfat fruit-flavored yogurt packs five teaspoons.

Don’t be fooled by “nonfat” labels; always check the sugar content before you buy. Try swapping nonfat fruit-flavored yogurt for nonfat Greek yogurt with a handful of your favorite berries mixed in. The latter is also higher in protein, which keeps you feeling full for longer.

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Sugar Showdown: Peanut-Butter Crackers vs. Corn Muffin

Which has more added sugar: One pack of peanut butter crackers, or one large corn muffin from a mix?

Answer: Peanut Butter Crackers

One pack of peanut butter crackers (not something you’d typically consider sweet-tasting) has an impressive six teaspoons of added sugar while a large corn muffin prepared from a mix has two teaspoons.

The American Heart Association says that adult women consume no more
than six teaspoons of added sugar a day; men should have no more than nine
teaspoons. So that’s just as much or nearly as much as your entire daily recommendation in one snack alone. In reality, we average 22 teaspoons of the stuff–yikes!

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Sugar Showdown: Soda vs. Coffee

Which has more added sugar: A large fountain soda, or a 16 oz. sweetened coffee drink?

Answer: Soda

Your favorite can of soda crams in 15 teaspoons of sugar compared to coffee’s (still staggering) 12 teaspoons. Neither option is great, since both provide a whopping 3-9 teaspoons more than what’s recommended for your entire day.

Added sugar is never healthy, but liquid calories, which we tend to guzzle quickly and don’t make us feel full or satisfied, are particularly bad offenders. So swap soda for water (flavor it with a sprig of mint or squeeze of lemon) and keep the added sugar out of your coffee. Green tea, which also contains caffeine, is a smart coffee substitute as well.

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Sugar Showdown: Bagel vs. Fortune Cookie

Which has more added sugar: One large bagel, or two fortune cookies?

Answer: Fortune Cookies

Two tiny fortune cookies may not seem as sugar-loaded as a jumbo bagel, but they contain a surprising three teaspoons of added sugar (one large bagel has two teaspoons of sugar). So after your next Chinese meal, crack open the cookie to learn your future, but toss it instead of downing the empty calories.

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Sugar Showdown: Fish Sticks vs. Peanut Butter

Which has more added sugar: Eight fish sticks, or two tablespoons of reduced-fat peanut butter?

Answer: They Have the Same Amount!

Eight fish sticks and two tablespoons of reduced-fat peanut butter both have one teaspoon of added sugar. This might not seem like much, but since the 1970s, food manufacturers have been cramming more added sugars into seemingly healthy and/or non-sweet foods like peanut butter, fish sticks, ketchup, and yogurt.

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Sugar Showdown: Glazed Chocolate Doughnut vs. Chocolate Chip Cookie

Which has more added sugar: A glazed chocolate doughnut, or a chocolate chip cookie?

Answer: Glazed Chocolate Doughnut

Clocking in at eight teaspoons of added sugar, a glazed chocolate doughnut has more than a chocolate chip cookie’s seven teaspoons. However, both provide nearly the equivalent of your daily recommended sugar intake in one sitting. Eek!

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Sugar Showdown: Caramel Popcorn vs. Fruit Smoothie

Which has more added sugar: One large bottled fruit smoothie, or a 3-oz. serving of caramel-coated popcorn?

Answer: They Have the Same Amount!

Think a few handful of caramel coated popcorn or a bottled fruit smoothie are harmless treats? Each has a whopping 12 teaspoons of added sugar. The problem: The more you eat sweet foods, the more you crave them. Cut back on the sweet stuff by whipping up your own with fresh fruit. For a caramel popcorn swap, go for light popcorn with a sprinkling of cinnamon: A recent study found that just a half teaspoon of cinnamon a day can significantly lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.

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Sugar Showdown: Pork and Beans vs. Pork and Beef Bologna

Which has more added sugar: One cup of pork and beans, or a 3.5-oz. serving of pork and beef bologna?

Aswer: Pork and Beans

A cup of pork and beans has five teaspoons of added sugar; pork and beef bologna has one teaspoon. These dinner favorites are a good example of how seemingly savory foods can conceal sneaky sugar.

Remember, these unwelcome sweeteners can come under many disguises:
high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, cane or beet sugar, honey, brown
sugar, agave syrup, and more. So when you scan nutrition labels, don’t
just look for “sugar.”

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Sugar Showdown: Worcestershire Sauce vs. Barbecue Sauce

Which has more added sugar: One large dollop of Worcestershire sauce, or one quarter cup of barbecue sauce?

Answer: They Have the Same Amount!

Both a large dollop of Worcestershire sauce and a quarter of a cup of barbecue sauce have half a teaspoon of processed sugar. That means, there’s a whole lot of sugar lurking in just one dab of Worcerstershire sauce. As a healthy alternative, try making kebabs with chicken and veggies instead of slathering BBQ sauce over meats. Or, serve burgers with ground beef that’s at least 90 percent lean topped with sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, feta, or olives, and use a whole grain bun.

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Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Perri O. Blumberg
A former food editor at Reader's Digest, Perri Blumberg is a writer and editor based in New York City. After attending Columbia University, where she received a BA in psychology, she went on to study food at a health-supportive culinary school. Her work has appeared in O Magazine, Men's Journal, Country Living, and on Mind, Body, Green, among others.