As we mentioned in our post What's the Dirt on Your Grounds?, drinking coffee has some great health benefits; but coffee also has a darker side, as do many of our favorite indulgences. Drinking our morning coffee has become so habitual that few of us stop to think about what's actually in it. If we're not careful, our coffee can harbor mountains of calories and sugar. For example, Starbucks' popular salted caramel mocha drink has a staggering 52 grams of sugar and 330 calories in a single 16 ounce serving. That's more than double the amount of sugar found in a Snickers candy bar.
Sugar's Hidden Dangers
Coffee isn't the only thing in your diet that may be covertly undermining your health goals by hiding sugar. Labels and advertisements can mislead even the most health conscious of us. We often don’t realize that many of our favorite foods, including some that are hailed as healthy, actually hide sneaky sugars that can threaten our goals and endanger our health. Excessive sugar consumption can cause insulin resistance, damage liver tissue, increase one's chances of developing cancer and diabetes, lead to weight gain, and initiate a cascade of other life threatening effects that shorten our lifespans.
Sugar's Most Common Hideouts
Have no fear. The thought of sugar's insidious effects may be frightening, but- with the right knowledge- we Modern Cavemen can confidently expel these criminal sugars from our lives and bring justice to our diets. Below is a list of sugar’s most common hideouts. These tips you can ensure that you aren't unintentionally sabotaging your health and your Modern Caveman status.
1. Know sugar's many aliases:
Sugar goes by many different names, including high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, maple syrup, honey, and sucrose. It's important to be familiar with all of its forms. Check the ingredients of your favorite foods to make sure sugar isn't hiding there under an alternate name.
2. Beware of anything labeled as low fat:
Have you ever noticed that many low fat peanut butter brands contain more carbohydrates than their full fat counterparts? Oftentimes, sugar is used as a replacement for fat in low fat products. This is because both fat and sugar are tasty. When food producers limit one ingredient, they often add more of the other in order to avoid sacrificing flavor.
3. Double check what’s in your "healthy" snack packs and bars:
Just because a snack is labeled as healthy doesn’t mean it’s right for us Modern Cavemen. For example, even if a snack bar is praised as being a good source of protein, it doesn't mean it’s low in sugar. Some snack packs and bars often contain as much sugar as a candy bar. Try to choose snacks that contain less than 10 grams of sugar per serving in order to keep your intake in check. Below are examples of other “healthy” snack culprits to be on the lookout for:
- Candied nuts
- Other kinds of flavored nuts
- Certain protein and snack bars
- Dried and canned fruit
4. If you are a Modern Caveman who chooses to eat dairy, watch out, especially when it comes to yogurt:
Dairy products are often hailed as healthy snacks. Not all dairy products are created equal, though. Many yogurts, for example, are loaded with sugar. Flavors such as peach and berry, which can make a buyer conjure up images of fruit, often contain little if any real fruit. Check your labels. Opt for high protein alternatives, like Greek yogurt, and aim for unsweetened varieties. If you want to add a little extra flavor to unsweetened yogurt, mash up some real fruit and add it yourself. Also, remember that flavored milks frequently house copious amounts of sugar, so stay away from chocolate milk and other flavored varieties (this also applies to dairy alternatives, like almond and coconut milk. Even the unflavored kinds used by coffee shops often have added sugar, so add your own alternative creamer whenever possible).
5. Scrutinize the labels on condiments:
Few people take into consideration their favorite add-ons when they're counting their calorie, salt, or sugar intake. Many of the most popular sauces- like ketchup, honey mustard, and salad dressing- contain these unhealthy ingredients in large supply. Make sure you read labels and look for brands that don't add sugar. Also, be attentive to a condiment's proper serving size. Ketchup may only have a few grams of sugar per serving, but we often squeeze on far more than a single teaspoon. More often than no, we pile on the sauces and unwittingly rack up the sugar.
6. Beware of alcoholic drinks and other refreshments, like coffee and soda:
Say no to soda. Also remember that most mixed drinks harbor mountains of sugar. Instead of indulging in a mixed drink, opt for wine or straight liquor for an option lower in sugar. In addition, watch out for what you add to your coffee and teas. Try to eliminate or minimize your use of sweetener. If you use sweetener, add it yourself. Don't trust your barista to watch the sugar for you.
7. Give up the juice:
Juice can contain as much sugar as soda. Just because it's made from fruit doesn't make it any healthier. It still sends your insulin system on a roller coaster ride and can ruin your weight goals. If you want fruit, opt for whole fruits; our bodies work best when we eat unprocessed whole foods. Lastly, if you do indulge in whole fruits, remember to do so in moderation and time them appropriately throughout your day. Fruit is nature's candy.
8. Be mindful when eating other processed, fruit based foods:
Juice isn't the only fruit product that you need to be wary of. Companies love to market products as "containing fruit" in an effort to make them sound healthier. Don't be fooled. Most of fruit-based products, even many dried fruit brands, contain added sugar.
8. When in doubt, buy unsweetened:
Look for products marked as unsweetened. This is a quick and easy way to avoid added sugar.
Sugar contains no essential nutrients, making it a source for empty calories. Therefore, it should be viewed as a treat, not a daily staple. The above tips will help you, as a Modern Caveman, to stay alert while on the prowl for pesky unwanted sugars that may be robbing you of your health.
- Missing your favorite condiment? Try mustard, hot sauce, or buffalo sauce as a flavorful alternative for ketchup. Most brands of buffalo sauce, hot sauce, and mustard (excluding honey mustard) don't contain added sugar and are low in calories.
- Accustomed to sweet coffee? Cinnamon (not cinnamon sugar) is a good alternative to sugar in coffee. It adds flavor and studies suggest that it may speed up the metabolism and help prevent certain cancers and diseases.
- If you choose to indulge in dry fruit, remember the sugars in dried fruit are more concentrated per serving, often containing upwards of 30 grams in a 1/4 cup. So be attentive to your serving size. It’s easy to overdo it. If you're aiming to eat a glycemic controlled diet, it's best to avoid this snack all together.