How much sugar are you really taking in?

Hindustan Times | By
Jul 27, 2019 05:28 PM IST

Even if you’ve resolved to cut sugar from your diet, it makes its way into your system in disguise. Can you spot hidden sugars in ordinary foods?

You avoid mithai, say no to dessert and don’t even take sugar with your coffee. But this harmful substance is still probably sneaking onto your plate. Three tablespoons of pasta sauce, for instance, can contain as much sugar as a chocolate-chip cookie. Here’s a look at other hidden sources:

Sauces often are packed with sugars, which make their way into your body despite your low-sugar diet.
Sauces often are packed with sugars, which make their way into your body despite your low-sugar diet.


Which of the following products would you say were sugar-free: ketchup, canned soup, ready-to-eat popcorn, instant oatmeal?

The correct answer? Not one of them. Biscuits, even savoury ones, are packed with sugar — as much as half a tablespoon per bikky. Ketchup, canned soup, ready-to-eat popcorn, and instant oatmeal are all 10% to 15% sweetener.

Two tablespoons of ketchup have around 8 gm of sugar. A packet of microwavable popcorn has 18 gm.

“Sugar is added to seemingly healthy items such as yogurt to boost flavour and to act as a preservative by inhibiting microbial activity,” says nutritionist Ushma Chheda.


Anything that ends with ‘-ose’ contains sugar. The most common variants used, especially on the labels of supposedly healthy products, are maltose, sucrose and dextrose. Other names used for sugar content in packaged foods include corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup (often abbreviated as HFCS, especially in American products), rice syrup, juice concentrate, disaccharide, invert sugar, and malt.

There are two ways to estimate how much sugar is in a product. First, check how far up the sweetener is on the list of ingredients. Ingredients are typically listed in descending order of proportion. So if corn syrup is the second, or first, ingredient listed, look for another alternative.

The second way is to check the glycemic index (GI) of the food item, which indicates sugar content. In the GI classification system, foods are categorised as having low sugar content if the index score is less than 55, medium if it’s between 55 and 69, and high GI if it’s over 70.


Why is sugar content so vital? Because, for one thing, the human body requires no white sugar. The body requires sugars largely in the form of glucose for generating energy. Ideally, these should be obtained from fruit and vegetables, as glucose and fructose.

Excess sugar is processed by the liver in different ways — glucose is first stored as glycogen and then as fat, and fructose as triglycerides, ie, fat.

Taking in too much sugar of any kind leads to raised blood sugar and fat build-up. It creates imbalances in insulin levels, causes blood pressure and has negative effects on vital organs. Sugar also ages your skin and can contribute to acne.

“Too much refined sugar can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease too,” says Dr Pramod Tripathi.

Because large amounts of sugar cause sudden spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels, they can leave you feeling hungrier and more tired as those levels suddenly drop, Chheda adds.

Stick to fruit for simple sugars your body will love. (Wikimedia Commons)
Stick to fruit for simple sugars your body will love. (Wikimedia Commons)

Sweet By Nature

You probably keep hearing that naturally occurring sugars are better, but that’s not just because they’re naturally occurring. It’s partly because they occur in healthy foods, and also because the body knows exactly what to do with them. Take a look

* Fruit contains fructose, a monosaccharide or single-molecule sugar type that is the easiest kind of sugar to break down and convert to energy.

* Sweet potatoes, rice and honey contain starch, which is converted into disaccharide in the human body, and finally to glucose. Because they are high in fibre and potassium, such foods take longer to process. This makes them healthy sources of sugar, because they do not cause any sudden spikes in insulin levels.

* Carrots, radishes and yam: These contain a type of starch that is converted into glucose. They also have high fibre content and so are a nutritious choice.

Most importantly, each of these sugar sources also comes packed with nutrients and vitamins. Which you really can’t say for that cupcake or glass of cola.

With inputs from diabetologist Dr Pramod Tripathi, and nutritionists Nmami Agarwal and Ushma Chheda

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