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Story at-a-glance -

  • Added sugars hide in 74 percent of processed foods under more than 60 different names
  • Seemingly healthy smoothies, salads, oatmeal, and yogurt often have more sugar than a doughnut (or several)
  • If you eat processed foods, consuming significantly more than the recommended daily amount of sugar is far easier than you might think

31 Foods With Surprisingly More Sugar Than Doughnuts

September 30, 2015 | 95,954 views
| Available in EspañolDisponible en Español

By Dr. Mercola

The American Heart Association and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend limiting your daily added sugar intake to nine teaspoons (38 grams) for men and six teaspoons (25 grams) for women.

I strongly recommend limiting your daily fructose intake to 25 grams or less from all sources, including natural sources such as fruit — regardless of whether you’re male or female. That equates to just over six teaspoons of total sugar a day.

The average American, however, consumes around 20 teaspoons of added sugar a day, which is more than three times my recommended amount.

There’s simply no doubt that this overconsumption of sugar is fueling the obesity and chronic disease epidemics we’re currently struggling with, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s.

Most people are aware that sugar is present (in abundance) in sweet processed foods like doughnuts, cakes, and candy.

Yet, many are unaware of just how much sugar they’re consuming, as it’s oftentimes hidden under other less familiar names, such as dextrose, maltose, galactose, and maltodextrin, and found in foods you wouldn’t necessarily expect.

According to SugarScience.org, added sugars hide in 74 percent of processed foods under more than 60 different names!1 So, needless to say, if you eat processed foods then consuming more than the recommended daily amount of sugar is far easier than you might think.

31 Foods with More Sugar Than a Doughnut

Doughnuts are one of the worst foods you can eat, and they’re also one of the most sugar-laden. So they serve as a good barometer of sugar content. If the food you’re eating contains more sugar than a doughnut, it’s probably not doing your health any favors.

There’s more to a food’s nutritive value than its sugar content alone (so eating a piece of whole fruit with 10 grams of sugar is going to offer you far more value than a doughnut with 10 grams), but the point is that even some “healthy-sounding” foods are too high in sugar to actually be healthy.

Krispy Kreme's original glazed doughnut contains 10 grams of sugar. Take Part, Business Insider, BuzzFeed, and Mother Jones compiled 31 foods that have more sugar than this, some of which may surprise you.2,3,4,5

  1. Chili’s Caribbean Chicken Salad with Grilled Chicken = almost 7 doughnuts (67 grams of sugar)
  2. Starbucks Caramel Frappuccino = 6 doughnuts (64 grams of sugar)
  3. Jamba Juice Banana Berry Smoothie, small = 6 doughnuts (60 grams of sugar)
  4. Odwalla Superfood Smoothie, 15.2 ounces = 5 doughnuts (50 grams of sugar)
  5. Sprinkles Red Velvet Cupcake = 4.5 doughnuts (45 grams of sugar)
  6. California Pizza Kitchen Thai Chicken Salad = 4.5 doughnuts (45 grams of sugar)
  7. Kraft French Style Fat Free Dressing = 4 doughnuts (42 grams of sugar)
  8. Dunkin’ Donuts Reduced-Fat Blueberry Muffin = 4 doughnuts (40 grams of sugar
  9. Snapple Peach Tea = 4 doughnuts (39 grams of sugar)
  10. Burger King Chicken, Apple, and Cranberry Garden Fresh Salad with Chicken = 4 doughnuts (38 grams of sugar)
  11. Craisins Dried Cranberries (1.75 ounces) = 3 doughnuts (34 grams of sugar)
  12. Vitamin Water, 20 ounces = 3 doughnuts (33 grams of sugar)
  13. Naked Pomegranate Blueberry Juice = 3 doughnuts (32 grams of sugar)
  14. McDonald’s Fruit and Maple Oatmeal = 3 doughnuts (32 grams of sugar)
  15. IHOP Whole Wheat Pancakes with Banana, four pancakes without syrup = 3 doughnuts (32 grams of sugar)
  16. Pom Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice, 8 ounces = 3 doughnuts (31 grams of sugar)
  17. Starbucks Greek Yogurt and Honey Parfait = 3 doughnuts (30 grams of sugar)
  18. Starbucks Blueberry Muffin = 3 doughnuts (29 grams of sugar)
  19. Stonyfield Fat Free Blackberry Blend Yogurt = 3 doughnuts (28 grams of sugar)
  20. Can of Coca-Cola = 2.5 doughnuts (26.4 grams of sugar)
  21. Yoplait Blackberry Harvest Yogurt = 2.5 doughnuts (26 grams of sugar)
  22. Tropicana Orange Juice, 8 ounces = 2 doughnuts (22 grams of sugar)
  23. Nutella Spread, 2 tablespoons = 2 doughnuts (21 grams of sugar)
  24. Campbell’s Classic Tomato Soup on the Go = 2 doughnuts (20 grams of sugar)
  25. Dole Mixed Fruit Cup = 1.5 doughnuts (17 grams of sugar)
  26. Subway 6" Sweet Onion Teriyaki Chicken Sandwich = 1.5 doughnuts (17 grams of sugar)
  27. Motts Applesauce (one cup) = 1.5 doughnuts (16 grams of sugar)
  28. Nature Valley Chewy Trail Mix Fruit and Nut Granola Bar = 1 doughnut (13 grams of sugar)
  29. Kellogg’s Froot Loops = 1 doughnut (12 grams of sugar)
  30. Prego Fresh Mushroom Italian Spaghetti Sauce = 1 doughnut (11 grams of sugar)
  31. Luna Bar = 1 doughnut (11 grams of sugar)

Beware of Trans Fats and Aldehydes in Doughnuts (and Other Processed Foods)

Aside from their high sugar content, doughnuts are often a source of highly toxic synthetic trans fats, which are linked to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and other health conditions.

In June of 2015, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced partially hydrogenated oils (a primary source of trans fat) will no longer be allowed in food unless authorized by the agency due to their health risks.

According to the FDA, this change may help prevent around 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 heart disease deaths each year. The new regulation will take effect in 2018. In the interim, food companies have to either reformulate their products to remove partially hydrogenated oils or file a limited use petition with the FDA to continue using them.

In order to gain approval, the company would have to provide evidence showing that trans fat is safe to consume — which could be difficult, considering the Institute of Medicine’s declaration that there's NO safe limit for synthetic trans fats. However, be aware that while the food industry has reduced the use of harmful synthetic trans fats, they’ve reverted back to using regular vegetable oils, and this is far from an ideal replacement.

Especially when heated, vegetable oils like peanut, corn, and soy oil degrade into highly toxic oxidation products that appear to be even worse than trans fats! One category of these byproducts, called aldehydes, are of particular concern. In animals, even low levels of aldehydes oxidize LDL cholesterol and cause high levels of inflammation, which is associated with heart disease.

Cyclic aldehydes have also been shown to cause toxic shock in animals through gastric damage, and this seems consistent with the rise in immune problems and gastrointestinal-related diseases in the human population.

Added Sugars Versus Natural Sugars: What’s the Difference?

One problem with processed food is that when you look at the label, you have no way of knowing how much of the sugar is natural to the food itself and how much of the sugar was added. According to endocrinologist Robert Lustig, one of the most well known crusaders speaking the truth about the real dangers of sugar, it’s important to distinguish between natural food-based sugars and added sugar, because clinical trials have shown that consuming added sugar, such as high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and other forms of processed fructose, can increase your risk factors for cardiovascular disease within as little as two weeks.

Food-based sugars tend to be far less hazardous, in Dr. Lustig’s opinion. Lactose, for example, which is a natural sugar found in dairy, does not cause any major harm, according to Dr. Lustig. Still, I believe that if you are insulin/leptin resistant, then limiting ALL forms of sugar, including natural food-based sugars such as lactose, is advisable until your insulin/leptin resistance has been resolved.

Nutritionist, fitness trainer, and author JJ Virgin agrees with my assertion that even natural sugars can be problematic. For instance, agave, natural fruit juice, raw cane sugar, and any number of other natural sugars will still wreak havoc on your health. Virgin, who authored the book The Sugar Impact Diet: Drop 7 Sugars to Lose Up to 10 Pounds in Just 2 Weeks, says:

“[S]ugar is really public enemy number one… That’s why I chose to focus on it. I don’t think added sugar is really the problem; I think it’s what’s in a lot of our food that we don’t recognize [as sugar]. Whether it’s having apple juice (which is worse for you than a soda), or having a yogurt sweetened with fruit juice concentrate, or whether you’re just thinking that fruits are free for all, these are all creating problems.

I wanted to create a structured program that could help someone break free of those sugar cravings, drop the weight forever, and then let them go back and [do a food] challenge... in order to connect the dots between what happens when they drink one of those big fruit smoothies that are supposed to be so healthy.”

The Sugar and Beverage Industries Want to Keep You in the Dark About Sugar

Added sugars, however, should be limited or eliminated as much as possible. As Dr. Lustig states, 77 percent of food items in US grocery stores contain added sugar. And as the list above shows, it’s not always easy to gauge how much sugar is in processed foods. As a result of the mounting evidence linking sugar to chronic disease, there's a proposal to add a line to the nutrition facts label indicating the amount of added sugars in food. Listing the percentage of daily value for sugar on nutritional labels would more readily identify high-sugar foods and could help rein in overconsumption caused by "hidden" sugars.

Not surprisingly, the sugar and beverage industries are hard at work opposing any and all federal actions that might dampen their sales. For example, the Sugar Association and the American Beverage Association have filed copious amounts of comments with the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, challenging scientific associations between sugar and chronic disease. Industry lawyers have even gone so far as to claim that including "added sugars" on nutrition labels is unconstitutional.

They don’t want you to know how much sugar is really in the food you eat because the more sugar you eat, the more you’re going to want (and the more you’re going to buy their products). Dr. Lustig explained:

“In the reward center, sugar stimulates the neurotransmitter dopamine, and dopamine drives reward. But dopamine also down-regulates its own receptor (which generates the reward signal). This means the next time round, you’re going to need more sugar to generate more dopamine to generate less reward, and so on, until you’re consuming a whole lot of sugar, and getting almost nothing for it. That’s tolerance, and sugar is guilty as charged.”

Sugar Is Highly Addictive

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), 10 percent of Americans consumed 25 percent or more of their daily calories in the form of added sugars. Further, most adults (71.4 percent) consumed at least 10 percent of their daily calories from added sugar.6 Why are added sugars (and natural sugars) making up such a large portion of Americans’ diets rather than, say, leafy greens, eggs, or hot peppers? When you eat refined processed sugars, they trigger production of your brain's natural opioids – a key ingredient in the addiction process.

Your brain essentially becomes addicted to stimulating the release of its own opioids as it would to morphine or heroin. Writing in The Atlantic,7 Dr. Lustig takes on the debate of whether sugar is truly addictive, and essentially proves that it very well is:

  • According to an animal study, Oreo cookies are just as addictive as cocaine or morphine, activating more neurons in the brain’s pleasure center than exposure to illicit drugs8
  • Rats exposed to sugar water demonstrate all the criteria necessary to diagnose addiction: binging, withdrawal, craving, and addiction transfer (or addiction to other substances as well)9
  • Humans want sugar even more than they want fat, as evidenced by a study that showed sugar, but not fat, stimulated the brain’s reward center10

Is Sugar Really a Health Hazard? It Depends on the Dose

The main problem with sugar, and processed fructose in particular, is the fact that your liver has a very limited capacity to metabolize it. According to Dr. Lustig, you can safely metabolize about six teaspoons of added sugar per day. As mentioned, the average American consumes 20 teaspoons of added sugar a day.11 All that excess sugar is metabolized into body fat, and leads to many of the chronic metabolic diseases we struggle with, including but not limited to:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Dementia
  • Cancer

A report by Credit Suisse Research Institute, which explored the impact of sugar and sweeteners on humans' diets, also suggested there may be a threshold level in the body for sugar below which it causes little or no harm… but once you pass it, health problems may emerge.12 Consuming small amounts of sugar may not be a problem, but consuming sugar by the pound certainly is.

"While medical research is yet to prove conclusively that sugar is the leading cause of obesity, diabetes type II, and metabolic syndrome, the balance of recent medical research studies are coalescing around this conclusion. Advances in understanding the negative effects of refined carbohydrates on blood sugar regulation and cholesterol, and the metabolic impacts of fructose, are undermining the traditional view that all calories are the same," the report stated.

Are You Ready to Break Free from Sugar?

If you currently eat sugar, there's a good chance you're struggling with sugar addiction. So I highly recommend trying an energy psychology technique called Turbo Tapping, which has helped many "soda addicts" kick their sweet habit, and it should work for any type of sweet craving you may have. Remember that in order to minimize your sugar intake, you need to avoid most processed foods, as most contain added sugar.

If you’re insulin/leptin resistant, have diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or are overweight, you’d be wise to limit your total sugar/fructose intake to 15 grams per day until your insulin/leptin resistance has resolved. For all others, I recommend limiting your daily fructose consumption to 25 grams or less. Please refer to my free nutrition plan for a step-by-step guide to making positive changes in your diet. You simply cannot achieve optimal health on a diet of processed foods and sugar. A couple of other tricks to try to kick your sugar cravings:

  • Exercise: Anyone who exercises intensely on a regular basis will know that significant amounts of cardiovascular exercise is one of the best "cures" for food cravings. It always amazes me how my appetite, especially for sweets, dramatically decreases after a good workout. I believe the mechanism is related to the dramatic reduction in insulin levels that occurs after exercise. Additionally, if you do eat sugars or fruits around the time of the exercise, your sugar levels will not rise as it will metabolized for fuel
  • Organic, black coffee: Coffee is a potent opioid receptor antagonist, and contains compounds such as cafestol – found plentifully in both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee – which can bind to your opioid receptors, occupy them, and essentially block your addiction to other opioid-releasing food.13,14 This may profoundly reduce the addictive power of other substances, such as sugar.
  • Sour taste, such as that from cultured vegetables, helps to reduce sweet cravings, too. This is doubly beneficial, as fermented vegetables also promote gut health. You can also try adding lemon or lime juice to your water.

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