- I tracked my food for a week to see if there were any foods hiding surprising amounts of sugar.
- While I expected some snacks like processed protein bars to be high in added sugar, I had no idea just how much was hiding in my home-cooked meals.
- I ended the week shocked to find the seasoning I use religiously was full of sugar, and that my beloved honey-roasted carrot recipe had the same amount of sugar as a Hershey’s chocolate bar.
I think I generally eat well. I cook most of my meals and stick to as many simple, affordable, and fresh ingredients as I can find.
But I decided to track my sugar for a couple of reasons. I wanted to understand my total sugar intake and find exactly where sugar was hiding, especially in my home-cooked meals. I also wanted to better understand my sugar cravings to see if there were any bad snacking habits I had to break.
Of course, there are different types of sugar. While natural sugar and added sugar are still both sugar, when you eat natural sugar in fruits and vegetables, you’re also consuming other minerals, vitamins, and nutrients. You’re also consuming fibre, which allows your body to digest sugar slower so you don’t crash. On the other hand, added sugar can lead to crashes in energy, and eating too much of it can lead to negative health effects. I wanted to take a look at all of my sources of sugar to understand where they were coming from.
I used MyFitnessPal to clock the amount of sugar in each ingredient or food religiously, but unfortunately the app did not separate natural from added sugar so I did that manually. In the end, I was shocked to realise that some of my go-to recipes were harbouring huge amounts of sugar.
Keep reading to find out the sneaky foods that were loaded with sugar.
Monday: Breakfast was two pieces of avocado toast.
The Insider kitchens are fully stocked with snacks, including avocados, so I started my week off with some avocado toast. I ate two slices of wheat bread from Trader Joe’s and about three-quarters of an avocado.
Bread: 2g sugar
Avocado: 0.7g sugar
Monday: Lunch was a home-cooked meal covered in my go-to seasoning.
I try to pack my lunch most days because I really enjoy cooking, plus, it saves me money. I kept things simple today with a meatless sausage from Trader Joe’s, roasted asparagus, and brown rice.
You’ll soon realise that I coat almost everything I cook in one seasoning: Eat Barbecue Zero to Hero Sweet Rub. It’s a sweet and spicy combination that I swear by, usually mindlessly shaking it on everything. Once I started tracking my sugar, I quickly realised that it is loaded with added sugar. No wonder I am addicted.
Asparagus: 4.8g sugar
Zero to Hero rub (1 teaspoon): 4g sugar
Soy sauce: 1g sugar
Italian sausage-less sausage: 1g sugar
Olive oil and brown rice: 0g sugar
Monday: My first snack of the day was a single clementine.
I grabbed a clementine from the office kitchen as a quick pick-me-up. Of course, it was packed with natural sugar.
Clementine: 7g sugar
Monday: When I got home, I had a second snack: homemade olive oil cake.
My roommate had made a delicious olive oil cake this past weekend, and I couldn’t resist having a slice while waiting for my dinner to cook.
Olive oil cake: 9g sugar (rough estimate)
Monday: Dinner was more veggies … but with a lot of added sugar.
For dinner, I sauteed some onions, kale, and then threw in my extra brown rice. This time I stayed away from the barbecue rub, instead opting for a sweet chilli sauce and some plain hummus. Once, I clocked the sauce, I realised I had made an even sugary choice.
Sweet chilli sauce: 10g sugar
Hummus: 1g sugar
Onions: 1g sugar
Olive oil, brown rice, and kale: 0g sugar
Monday: I had one final sweet treat at the end of the day.
I have a huge sweet tooth and usually need to end the night with a little dessert. This time, I opted for a small piece of Hershey’s dark chocolate.
Dark chocolate: 4.2g sugar
Monday summary: I was surprised to see I’d managed to consume more sugar than I expected in what I thought was a relatively healthy day.
Total sugar for Monday: 46g
Added sugar: 31.2g
According to MyFitnessPal, my maximum sugar intake for the day should be around 68 grams, which I did not reach, but it’s important to note that this number is a combination of added and natural sugars.
When it comes to just added sugar, the American Heart Association recommends women should eat no more than an average of 25 grams a day.
Reflecting on my first day of tracking my sugar, I was surprised by just how much sugar I still managed to consume in what I thought to be a relatively healthy day.
By far the most surprising culprit was the sweet chilli sauce from Trader Joe’s. I couldn’t believe how much sugar I was drizzling on my food mindlessly, turning a very healthy veggie stir-fry into a sugar-filled dish.
At 4.8 grams of sugar, 12 spears of asparagus also added more (albeit natural) sugar to my day than I expected.
Tuesday: I had two types of toast toppings for breakfast.
I decided to fuel my day with some more toast. This time, I used up the rest of my leftover avocado on one slice and some unsalted peanut butter on the other.
Bread: 2g sugar
Peanut butter: 1g sugar
Avocado: 0.2g sugar
Cinnamon: 0.1g sugar
Tuesday: Lunch was a salmon burger and more home-cooked vegetables.
For lunch, I had a very burnt salmon burger and a mixture of roasted mushrooms, tomatoes, and carrots. The carrots were seasoned with honey, maple syrup, and of course, the Zero to Hero seasoning.
Honey (1 tablespoon): 16g sugar
Zero to Hero Rub (2 teaspoons): 8g sugar
Carrots: 5g sugar
Maple agave syrup (1 teaspoon ): 3.5g sugar
Salmon burger: 1g
Mushrooms and Tomatoes: 0g sugar
Tuesday: I had a simple snack of crackers and tea in the afternoon.
I had a very snack-filled afternoon, starting off with some Ritz crackers and an Earl Grey tea with oat milk.
Ritz crackers: 2.1g sugar
Oat milk (just a splash): 2.1g sugar
Tuesday: Then it was time for Girl Scout cookies.
After a salty snack, I went for a sweet fix and had one Samoa cookie.
Cookie: 5g sugar
Tuesday: And finally, I reached for a trusty cheese string.
Cheese strings are one of my guilty pleasures and the office has a fully stocked fridge, so I couldn’t resist.
Cheese string: 0g sugar
Tuesday: After all that snacking, I only wanted roasted vegetable chips and a granola bar that evening.
I think my afternoon snacking threw off my meal rhythm – because I returned home only to snack more. I usually eat a substantive dinner, but tonight, all I wanted was a bowl of Terra Chips and a Nature Valley bar I grabbed from the office.
Nature Valley bar: 12g sugar
Terra Chips: 6g sugar
Tuesday summary: This was a very sugary day.
Total sugar for day 2: 64g
Added sugar: 39.2g
The average amount of added sugar I should be eating in a day is 25 grams, and today I came close to almost doubling that. My all-day snacking adventure was definitely not keeping my sugar levels low.
Since I know that Nature Valley bars can be filled with sugar, the sugary snacking didn’t surprise me much. However, I did not expect my carrot recipe to be loaded with sugar, especially the carrots themselves. My carrot recipe alone added up to 24.5 grams of sugar, the same amount as a full Hershey’s chocolate bar.
Wednesday: Breakfast was another round of avocado toast.
After having avocado toast for the first two days, I decided to keep the streak going. I had learned from the first two mornings that its sugar content was low – yet it gave me enough fuel to get through the morning, so I stuck with this easy breakfast.
Bread: 2g sugar
Avocado: 0.7g sugar
Wednesday: Lunch featured — you guessed it — my favourite seasoning.
For lunch I had prepared a whole mixture of veggies and fried tofu, cooking everything in the Zero to Hero rub. This meal felt really healthy to me, and I was interested to see just how much sugar was hiding beneath the greens.
Zero to Hero Rub (3 teaspoons): 12g sugar
Corn: 7.8g sugar
Asparagus: 7.2g sugar
Tofu, brown rice, mushrooms, and kale: 0g sugar
Wednesday: I grabbed a coffee with a splash of oat milk.
I had a mid-day coffee with oat milk to re energize me after lunch.
Oat milk: 11.3g sugar
Coffee: 0g sugar
Wednesday: Before leaving work, I had another Nature Valley bar.
I knew I was heading to workout after work, so I decided to eat a few snacks to get me through the evening.
Nature Valley bar: 11g sugar
Wednesday: I also grabbed a small lox sandwich before working out.
Insider’s Rainbow Group was having a meeting in the work kitchen with tons of food, so I stopped by and picked up a lox sandwich on a sweet Hawaiian bun. This week is also teaching me how random my snack choices can be – and how they all contain sugar.
Hawaiian mini bun: 3.5g sugar
Lox: 0g sugar
Wednesday: For a quick and easy dinner, I cooked a can of vegan chilli.
After my workout, I set out for the laundromat, which sucked the last bit of energy out of me. I stopped at a bodega and picked up this can of vegan chilli, which made for a very sad dinner.
Canned chilli: 4.2g sugar
Hummus: 1g sugar
Wednesday summary: Surprisingly, my only completely home-cooked meal of the day was hiding the most sugar.
Total sugar for the day: 60g
Added sugar: 43g
I was surprised to see that I managed to go even higher with my added sugars than the day before. Plus, my veggie-filled lunch was the biggest hidden sugar culprit. As well as the seasoning, the corn and asparagus alone totaled 15 grams. I had no idea just how much sugar was hiding in my bowl of vegetables.
Thursday: I enjoyed some fruit and a bagel for breakfast.
Let me preface this day by saying the office had a seemingly endless supply of free bagels. I started my day with a plain bagel, chive cream cheese, and a few slices of mangoes, which were packed with natural sugar.
Mangoes: 21g sugar
Bagel: 4g sugar
Cream cheese: 0g sugar
Thursday: Lunch was … another bagel.
For lunch, I abandoned what I brought and decided to take full advantage of the bagels. This time, I went for the cinnamon raisin bagel with some peanut butter.
Cinnamon raisin bagel: 12g sugar
Peanut butter: 1g sugar
Thursday: I continued my carb streak with pizza and beer for dinner.
After work, I met up with some friends to play bingo at a local bar where you can get a free small cheese pizza with a beer. Since I already had two bagels today, I figured why not just let my whole day consist of bread.
Oh, and I won at bingo.
Lagunitas IPA: 2g sugar
Pizza: 1.5g sugar
Thursday summary: I was surprised to see there was a huge difference in the amount of sugar between the two different types of bagels.
Total sugar for the day: 40g
Added sugar: 20.5g
Considering my diet consisted of mostly carbs for the entire day, I was surprised to see my sugar intake was the lowest it has been all week. I already knew fruit was loaded with sugar, so I was not taken aback to see mango as my biggest culprit. However, the difference in sugar between a plain bagel and a cinnamon raisin – a difference of 8 grams – was something I will definitely keep in mind for the future.
Friday: I skipped the bread this morning and opted for a berry and banana smoothie instead.
This unattractive smoothie was an effort to try to give myself a little break from all the bread. I simply blended mixed berries, banana, and some almond milk to start my day.
Banana: 14.4g sugar
Mixed berries: 11g sugar
Unsweetened vanilla almond milk: 0g sugar
Friday: Lunch was a tuna and mayo sandwich.
By Friday I was running low on fresh groceries, so I put together a simple canned tuna and mayonnaise sandwich on two slices of wheat bread.
Bread: 2g sugar
Canned tuna and 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise: 0g sugar
Friday: I snacked on an Oreo cookie for some sugar.
By midday my body was feeling some sugar withdrawal, so I gave in and had a vanilla Oreo cookie.
Vanilla cookie: 2g sugar
Friday: For dinner, I enjoyed some vegetable dumplings followed by cake.
My roommate and I finished off our week with some frozen Trader Joe’s vegetable dumplings and the rest of the olive oil cake, which I ate too quickly to photograph.
Olive oil cake: 9g sugar
Vegetable dumplings (5): 4g sugar
Friday summary: Once again, I stayed below the maximum recommended sugar intake — but I’d learned some valuable lessons about where the added sugar was coming from.
Total sugar for the day: 42g sugar
Added sugar: 17g sugar
Reflecting on my entire week, there were three foods that were unexpectedly sugary: the Zero to Hero Rub, the sweet chilli sauce, and my beloved carrot recipe.
Before tracking my sugar intake, I had assumed that foods without an expiration date (i.e. frozen and canned foods) would have the most hidden added sugar.
Yet it was the condiments and seasonings I used to flavour my fresh, home-cooked meals that were the most surprising culprits. I always thought that cooking my own food would be the best way to know and control exactly what was going in my body. I never thought to question how I flavored them, and was blown away by just how much sugar I was mindlessly dumping on everything.
My biggest takeaway is to be cautionary with condiments and seasonings, knowing that a little bit can go a long way. I learned that I feel my best when I am choosing foods loaded with natural sugars over added sugars, and that processed sugar only leads me down a deep, dark snacking hole.
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