Foods with Hidden Sugars

In a recent post, I wrote about a number of surprising foods with hidden flours, wheat, and/or gluten.  If you were to build a list out of every food with wheat and/or gluten in it, it would be rather immense, but it would still probably be shorter than a list of foods containing sugars.  So in this post I’m going to spread the wealth around by exploring some foods with hidden sugars.

In many past articles, I’ve noted that supermarkets are filled with products that contain sugars (whether it’s high fructose corn syrup, organic cane juice, or just plain ‘sugar’).  The more mainstream the supermarket/grocery store, the more challenging it tends to be to find products with no sugars added, a food type which should be a norm but in many cases turns out to be the “alternative.”  My favorite example here would have to be peanut butter.  The majority of the peanut butters that you find in your average grocery store, including your Jifs, your Skippys, and your generic store brands, contain added sugar.

Why do peanut butter manufacturers do this?  I don’t know for sure, but I would suspect that the added sugar is what has been keeping consumers coming back for more for decades.  But there’s nothing wrong with peanut butter that contains simply peanuts and salt, I can tell you confidently from experience.  I just hope that you’re able to find a similar no-sugar-added version in your own store at an affordable price.  If you don’t, I would urge you to either order online (and of course be sure to read the ingredients list on the seller’s website), or drive the extra distance to a store that offers healthier products.  The fact of the matter is, as much of a local resource as your neighborhood store may be, it it’s a supermarket with no sugar-free peanut butters (or no inexpensive ones), it’s probably going to miss the mark, in terms of quality, in most of the other products that you would buy there too.

As in my foods with hidden flours post, just to spice things up a bit I’m going to give you a quick quiz to see if you can detect the foods with hidden sugars:

So then, which of the following foods do you think contains added sugars?

1. Yogurt

2. Mustard

3. Oatmeal

The answer?  Don’t cheat- go ahead and give it a guess first….Ok then, the answer is, and this one is a bit nuanced:  Potentially, all of the above.  In other words, you can find some yogurts, mustards, and oatmeal that contain sugar, and others that don’t.  Any yogurts that are fruit flavored are going to have added sugars, vanilla too.  Greek-style yogurt, which is the healthiest type to get, and a good source of protein, doesn’t have sugar.  Your odds of picking out a mustard with added sugar increase if it’s a fancier mustard, or any mustard that’s not your basic spicy brown deli-style mustard; some Dijon mustards have no sugars, others have it added.  Oatmeal is much more clear cut:  the kind you buy in the little pouches within boxes will inevitably have added sugar, or if not they’ll probably have artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, along with various chemical additives.  Keep it simple and go with steel-cut oatmeal or similar…as is always the case: read the ingredients and you’ll know what flies and what doesn’t.

 Why use foods with hidden sugars when ones without taste better?

When I was first cooking for myself in college and just after, during grad school, when I made spaghetti I would heat up jarred pasta sauce to go on top of it, because that’s what I grew up with and that’s what I knew.  When a woman I was dating teased me for using “canned spaghetti sauce,” it turned out to be an eye-opener, even more so when she taught me how to make my own sauce using canned tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, and spices.  No sugar required, and it tasted better than what I had been using myself.  Keep that in mind next time you catch yourself, or someone you care about, buying store-bought sauce.  If you’re going to break down and do so out of convenience, at least read the ingredients and make sure there’s no sugar added!

It’s not the end of the world if some of the items in your food pantry contain sugar – with cold cereals, it’s extremely difficult to avoid – but at least be cognizant when you do make those purchases, and do your best to keep them to a minimum.  Meanwhile, here’s a list I’ve compiled of common store-bought foods with hidden sugars that you can keep in mind next time you go shopping:



Store-bought pasta/marinara sauce

Breads (especially white)

Salad dressings

Protein Bars (very few come without added sugars; Larabar is an exemplary exception)

Milks (whether natural sugars in cow’s milk or rice milk, or added in some almond milks)

Iced Teas

Oatmeal and most cold cereals

Sports drinks (including Gatorade)

Peanut butter


Any pre-made dinner foods, whether soups or frozen dinners, even the “healthier” ones

Gluten-free bread recipes

Pancake and Waffle mixes


Protein Mixes/Supplements

Crackers (with some healthy exceptions)

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