Dear Dietician: Beware sugar content in 'healthy' foods

Leanne McCrate

Dear Dietitian,

I’ve been working hard on eating healthy this year, and I read your column regularly. I have been surprised at how much sugar is in foods that I thought were good for me. Do you have a list of these foods?

Thank you,


Dear Angela,

Remember, it’s the food company’s job to make a product that takes good, not necessarily one that improves your health. An easy way to do that is to add sugar.

Leanne McCrate, RDN, LD, CNSC

The American Heart Association recommends women consume no more than six teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar a day, and men should have a maximum of 9 teaspoons a day (38 grams) (1). However, we take in a whopping 17 teaspoons of sugar each day (2). Reducing our sugar intake to the recommended level could result in a 13-pound annual weight loss for men and an 18-pound weight loss for women! We wouldn’t even have to give up sugar completely — just cut back!

Below is a list of foods you may think are healthy but actually contain a lot of sugar:

  1. Granola: a seemingly wholesome food, but beware: granola is typically made with honey or brown sugar. To add insult to injury, a serving size is ¼ to ½ cup. Who eats ¼ cup of cereal in the morning?
  2. Yogurt: These tasty, creamy dairy foods are often fruit-flavored and sugar-sweetened. Look out for cane sugars, as these are just like regular sugar. Luckily, there are several low-sugar varieties on the market that are just as delicious!
  3. Sports drinks: Originally designed to get nutrients into your body quickly, sugar adds an energy rush. There are several low-calorie and sugar-free alternatives on the market.
  4. Trail mix: a quick snack to take along the way, they often include chocolate or sugar-coated raisins to add a touch of sweet to the salty. There is an easy fix: make your own. Measure ¼ cup of your favorite nuts and add a few raisins to sweeten. Delightful and less expensive!
  5. Breakfast cereals: Perhaps because they are primarily marketed to children, the cereal aisle is filled with sugar! Your best bet is to buy an unsweetened cereal and add fruit to sweeten it.
  6. Flavored oatmeal: These are often marketed for their convenience in single-pack servings that you can take on the go. Opt for the old-fashioned oatmeal that cooks in 5 minutes. Not only is it naturally without sugar, but it is also higher in fiber than the flavored packs.
  7. Protein bars: When we think of protein, we often think of a healthy nutrient that will stay with us longer than a carbohydrate snack. Be sure to read the label; it usually comes with a considerable amount of added sugar.
  8. Coffee drinks: there’s nothing like a shot of caffeine with a shot of sugar to get you going in the morning! These drinks are insanely popular, calorie-packed, and, more often than not, sugar-laden. Make your coffee at home and take it to work. You will be surprised at how much money and calories you’ll save.
  9. Nut butter mixed with chocolate: Really? The chocolate gives it away, right?
  10. Fruit juice: If you can enjoy a ½ cup serving of your favorite fruit juice, go ahead. But if you guzzle more, be aware that fruit juice is a concentrated source of fructose, or fruit sugar. Consider eating the whole fruit and getting a boost of fiber.

Until next time, be healthy!

Dear Dietitian


1-2. How Much Is Too Much? The growing concern over too much added sugar in our diets. (n.d.) Retrieved from

Leanne McCrate, RDN, LD, CNSC, aka Dear Dietitian, is an award-winning dietitian based in Missouri. Her mission is to educate consumers on sound, scientifically-based nutrition. Do you have a nutrition question? Email her today at Dear Dietitian does not endorse any products, health programs, or diet plans.