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Sugar Shockers: Foods Surprisingly High in Sugar

WebMD takes a look at the sugar content in some popular packaged foods -- and the results may surprise you.
By
WebMD Expert Column

When you read the labels on foods in your supermarket, it's no surprise that you find plenty of sugar in products like cake mix, ice cream, jelly, cookies, and soda. But it can be downright shocking to see 12 grams of sugar in bottled pasta sauce or barbecue sauce -- and even more so to find 50 grams of sugar in a healthy-sounding bottled tea!

To help you ferret out which products are surprisingly high in sugar, I embarked on a mission in the aisles of my local market. Over the course of several days, with my reading glasses close at hand, I examined hundreds of nutrition information labels to check out the sugar content in foods.

One thing’s for sure: Just because there’s a nutrition-oriented statement on the package (like "contains whole grain," "excellent source of calcium," "fat-free," "100% juice" or "25% less sugar") doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain a shocking amount of sugar. And just because the brand name or product name sounds like it’s good for weight loss (Weight Watchers, Skinny Cow, etc.), don’t assume the food is lower in sugar.

So how much exactly is a gram of sugar? One teaspoon of granulated sugar equals 4 grams of sugar. To put it another way, 16 grams of sugar in a product is equal to about 4 teaspoons of granulated sugar.

Keep in mind, though, that the grams of sugar listed on the nutrition information label includes natural sugars from fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose) as well as added sweeteners like refined sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. That’s why the label on a carton of regular low-fat milk says there's 13 grams of sugar per cup. And that’s why the grams of sugar per serving in Raisin Bran (or any cereal with raisins or other dried fruit) seem unexpectedly high.

Further, many beverages that boast of being 100% juice use juice concentrate to achieve their sweet flavor. This is also reflected in the grams of sugar listed on the label.

Touring the supermarket, I found sugar shockers in 14 food categories. Here are some of the foods I found to be surprisingly high in sugar.

1. Canned or Packaged Fruit

You don’t really expect to find lots of sugar in individual packages of fruit, even if the package says "in light syrup," like the diced peaches or pears, or "made with real fruit" like the Fruit Chillers Sorbet.

  • DelMonte Fruit Chillers Frozen Fruit Sorbet: 1 small individual cup = 26 grams sugar, 190 calories
  • Motts Apple Sauce (cinnamon or original): 1 small serving cup (113 g) = 22-23 grams sugar, 100 calories
  • Dole diced peaches in light syrup: 1 small serving cup = 18 grams sugar, 80 calories
  • DelMonte diced pears or mandarin oranges in light syrup: 1 small serving cup = 17 grams sugar, 70 calories
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