These “Healthy” Treats Have More Sugar Than Ice Cream

Photo Credit: Viktor Solomin

May 29, 2021

by Pam Krauss

By now most of us know that lots of everyday processed foods and beverages can be significant sources of sugar. A 12-ounce can of soda contains about 40 grams (40!), while good old OJ packs a whopping 24 grams in every 8-ounce glass. Condiments like ketchup, barbecue sauce, and Sriracha all have at least 1 gram per teaspoon — and when was the last time you had a teaspoon of barbecue sauce on your ribs?

It’s easy to see how you could tip the sugar scales without ever touching a brownie.

That includes snacks and sweets from the healthy section of your market. In fact, you should know that these so-called “better” options are often worse than their indulgent counterparts. Many of these so-called “healthy” treats deliver more sugar per serving than a generous scoop of ice cream.

Consider this: A serving of a plain (no add-ins) premium ice cream like Haagen Dazs or Breyers chocolate clocks in at approximately 20 grams of sugar. A more modest scoop of 1/3 cup will set you back only 10 grams of sugar. If that sounds like a lot, consider these foods that contain far more sugar per serving.

1. Dried Fruit

You probably know to avoid trail mix or snack blends that contain chunks candy like M&Ms, but often it’s not chocolate, but dried fruit that sends the sugar content of these mixtures soaring. For instance, a 3 oz. bag of Natierra Organic Dried Mango has 50 grams of sugar – yup, that’s even more than that 12-ounce soda you said no thanks to.

Raisins, dried apricots and pineapple all have about 16 grams of sugar per ounce by weight. (That’s about 50% more than that baby scoop of ice cream.) And watch out for dried fruit used in baked goods and bars, too. A single (2-ounce) Whole Wheat Fig Bar from Nature’s Bakery has 19 grams of sugar and each marble-sized Sattva Vida Energy Ball, made with dried dates and other flavorings, has 7 grams of sugar. Wolf down 3 of those after a workout and you might as well have gone for the double scoop!

2. Fruit Juice and Smoothies

Not to come down too hard on fruit, but stripped of its natural fiber and used primarily as a sweetening agent, fruit is a major culprit in contributing sugar to everything from frozen fruit pops to energy drinks and smoothies — and without a lot of upside.

By far the worst offenders are found in the energy drink case; a single 15.2-ounce bottle of Evolution Fresh Super Fruit Greens Juice or Naked’s Blue Machine each have 50 grams of sugar or more.  That’s nearly the equivalent of a full pint of ice cream!

When these juices are hiding in a smoothie, watch out! A 6-ounce Stonyfield Low-Fat Peach Smoothie has only 180 calories, but that still carries 27 grams of sugar, most of it in the form of added sugar. Bolthouse Farms Strawberry Banana Smoothie likewise has 28 grams of sugar in every 8-ounce glass.

low sugar yogurts
Photo Credit: Jeff Wasserman

3. Yogurt & Dairy Alternatives

The secret is out that fruity yogurts tend to be loaded with sugar. The typical fruit-flavored yogurt contains about double the sugar of the equivalent amount of full-fat plain yogurt, as much as 22 grams for a 5.3-ounce cup.

And if you’re opting for a plain yogurt sweetened with honey or maple syrup, you may not be doing yourself any favors.  Fage Total 2% Yogurt with Honey has 28 grams of sugar in a 150g serving; Brown Cow’s maple flavor has 16 grams of sugar in a similar size serving – not surprising when you consider that a single tablespoon of maple syrup has 14 grams of sugar.

And let’s talk for a minute about all things dairy-free. So Delicious cashew milk frozen desserts have about 17 grams of sugar per ½-cup serving, more or less on par for a regular dairy ice cream. Of course, dairy-free products are a godsend for those with a lactose intolerance. Just know that they are not going to represent a significant savings on the sugar front.

4. Sweet Tea Beverages

If you’ve switched from soda to a sweetened tea or lemonade to avoid excess sugars, check the label before patting yourself on the back. An 18-ounce bottle of Pure Leaf Sweet Tea, considered one serving, has 42 grams of sugar, and Joe’s 1/2 Lemon Tea 1/2 Lemonade, in a 20-ounce bottle, has 57 grams. Again, that’s the rough equivalent of a full pint of ice cream.

5. Energy Bars

Shall we just call these cookies and be done with it? True, some deliver an extra measure of nutrition in the form of added protein or maybe a bit of fiber. But most are some kind of grain with fruit, nuts or seeds, and chocolate sweetened to make them palatable. Add some butter and an egg and you have a souped-up oatmeal cookie.

There is such a wide range of products in this aisle that it pays to read labels especially carefully. Still, you can be certain you will be adding at least 10 grams of sugar to your daily tally; in the case of some especially egregious offenders, 20 grams or more.

If you’ve stashed an energy bar in your gym bag as a reward, maybe head to the ice cream parlor instead. You’ll get the same burst of energy and actually feel like you treated yourself, too.

Clean Plates

Good food brings people together.
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Clean Plates

Good food brings people together.
So do good emails.