Sugar, specifically added sugar, lurks in foods you’d least suspect. In fact, the worst offenders are commonly perceived to be “healthy” choices—especially some of our favorite summer treats (say it ain’t so!)
Health experts increasingly agree that we could all benefit from cutting added sugars from our diet—eating too much can raise insulin, increase inflammation, and accelerate cellular aging (a.k.a. make our bodies age faster!). “Consuming less sugar throughout the day will help balance your blood sugar and stabilize your appetite and mood,” says Emily Navarro, RDN, senior manager of health and wellness for Freshly. Here are some of the most beloved summer staples that secretly contain sugar—and her suggestions for how to make them healthier:
The hidden sugar: Recipes and restaurants often add sugar to sweeten-up an already sweet fruit smoothie. Instead, rely on the natural sugars from whole, unsweetened fruit. Some smoothies can go overboard on fruit too, so stick to a reasonable portion – no more than you would eat for a snack or as part of a meal.
The Freshly fix: For a milkshake-y texture, blend frozen fruits and veggies (bananas and cauliflower work well for creaminess) with an unsweetened milk or coconut water. Sneak in a handful of fresh or frozen spinach or kale, plus a healthy source of fat like seeds, nuts, or avocado, and fresh herbs or spices like fresh mint, ginger, or turmeric for added nutrition.
The hidden sugar: Tea can be a refreshing and healthy way to stay hydrated, but beware of bottled and canned varieties, which can have more than 20g of added sugar in 1 serving, that’s close to the American Heart Association’s recommended limit (25g of added sugar per day for women, 36 grams per day for men) for the entire day.
The Freshly fix: Choose unsweetened varieties, or better yet, brew tea at home and store in the refrigerator. Try a squeezed lemon, a slice of pineapple, or add a few frozen raspberries to freshly brewed iced tea for a hint of flavor and sweetness.
Sauces and condiments
The hidden sugar: Since sauces and condiments are eaten in smaller amounts, they typically fall under the radar, which is why they can be the sneakiest when it comes to hidden sugar. Popular bottled barbecue sauce has 16g of sugar in just 2 tablespoons. Even ketchup can have 4g of sugar in just 1 tablespoon.
The Freshly fix: Look for sauces that use the least amount of sugar. Instead of ketchup, try mustard. Even better, make your own sauces so you have control over what and how much goes in. For sauces that need just a touch of sweetness, like barbecue or teriyaki, we like to use honey or maple syrup, since they’re sweeter than table sugar and you can get away with using less.
The hidden sugar: Nothing says summer like outdoor happy hour, but those pina coladas are a sugar bomb—just one 5 oz drink can set you back by at least 31g of sugar (that’s almost 8 teaspoons)! Watch out for other sugary cocktails that have added simple syrup and soda like Long Island Iced teas and margaritas, even tonic water—which is easily mistaken for being sugar-free—packs 32g per 12 fl ounce bottle.
The Freshly fix: Of course, drinking in moderation is a natural (and recommended!) strategy. For a less sugary version of your favorite cocktail, ask the bartender to skimp on the simple syrup, or request mixers like club soda and real lime or lemon juice instead of the flavored, bottled stuff.
The hidden sugar: When ordering your morning iced coffee, don’t let the term “lightly sweetened” fool you. A “lightly sweetened” large, black iced coffee has a shocking 30g of sugar, and a large iced vanilla latte has 41g! That blended creamy caramel coffee drink? A whopping 66g of sugar in just a medium—that’s 16.5 teaspoons, well above the recommended daily limit.
The Freshly fix: Specify that you would like an unsweetened coffee when you order. If you can’t quite stomach it, decrease the sugar slowly by requesting less pumps of syrup and try a sprinkle of cinnamon or vanilla instead. For lattes, skip the flavors and you’ll cut the sugar by more than half! The sugar in a regular caffe latte comes from lactose, the naturally occurring sugar in milk.
The hidden sugar: Sports drinks can be a great tool for athletes or people working strenuously, especially in hot weather for longer than an hour. They replenish important electrolytes for hydration and provide a fast-acting source of sugar for energy—a 20 fl. oz. bottle provides a whopping 34g of sugar. The problem is, most of us don’t work hard enough to warrant that much, and they can contribute to weight gain.
The Freshly fix: Unless you’re working up a real sweat, stick to water. Foods like watermelon and cucumber can be hydrating too—plus they provide beneficial vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Or, try an unsweetened coconut water, which has some natural sugar and electrolytes, just be sure to check the label to avoid brands with excess sugars and added flavors.
The hidden sugar: Just like condiments and sauces, salad dressings can also hide sugar and possibly sabotage our healthiest intentions. Check the label, especially for sweet salad dressings like French, fruit-flavored vinaigrettes, and cole slaw dressing which has 6-8 grams of sugar per 2 tablespoons. Plus, the small serving size makes it easy to overdo!
The Freshly fix: For an easy dressing without the sugar, whisk together vinegar or lemon juice with dijon mustard and extra virgin olive oil. Experiment with herbs like parsley and basil for an Italian flare, or oregano for a Greek-style dressing. Add minced garlic or shallots for extra flavor.
The hidden sugar: Frozen yogurt seems to carry a “health halo” because it can be lower in fat and calories than ice cream. But opting for fro-yo can even have more sugar than other frozen treats. A half cup of fro-yo can have 17g of sugar—and keep in mind that most fro-yo cups and cones hold much more than just the one serving.
The Freshly fix: When you need a sweet treat, by all means, enjoy it. For all those other times, satisfy your craving with banana “nice” cream: Add frozen banana slices to a food processor with 100% pure cacao and a small amount of your favorite unsweetened milk, blend until smooth