Do you find yourself eating what you consider a pristine diet, getting enough sleep, practicing deep breathing, and hitting the gym and yet still struggle to hit your goal weight? You’d be surprised how many foods can make you fat. “By now you’re probably aware coffee drinks can become sugar bombs, but even the most health-conscious among us struggle to know everywhere sugar hides and how to avoid those foods,” says JJ Virgin CNS, celebrity nutrition and fitness expert, and author of the New York Times bestsellers: The Virgin Diet and JJ Virgin’s Sugar Impact Diet. “Sneaky sugars hide in places you’d never suspect, including whole foods, diet foods, packaged fruit, drinks, and dressings. Never mind that the label proclaims ‘no added sugar’ or whatever. You’ve got to scrutinize ingredients and learn sugar’s many disguises.”
How many of these sneaky offenders, outlined by Virgin, would you have guessed?
1. Balsamic vinaigrette
Authentic, traditional balsamic vinegar comes from Italy, requires 12 years or longer to age, and undergoes rigorous testing before it hits the shelf. Commercial balsamic vinegar doesn’t undergo this painstaking process. Instead, manufacturers usually make it from white wine vinegar and add caramel coloring (for color and added sweetness) as well as thickeners like cornstarch and gum, which ramp up the calories and sugar. Next time you order a salad, skip the balsamic and drizzle olive oil and vinegar.
2. Restaurant salads
Well aware you want some pizzazz with your raw greenery, restaurants douse dinner salads with all sorts of high-sugar impact catastrophes. You can quickly turn your salad into dessert with toppings like creamy dressings, dried fruit, and glazed nuts. Remember you’re in charge at restaurants, so specify what ingredients you want in your salad or you risk getting a triple-digit calorie fat bomb.
Craftily positioned as a fast, healthy breakfast alternative, most commercial smoothies are nothing more than adult fruity milkshakes. One 16-ounce (their smallest size) commercial banana berry smoothie carries a whopping 12 teaspoons of sugar; hardly health bonanza some might consider them.
4. Protein bars
If your favorite protein tastes like a candy bar, you’re not far off. I counted at least four types of sugar and soy protein isolate (a cheap form of protein) in one “healthy” commercial protein bar. Adding a little fiber and some nutrients doesn’t suddenly make a protein bar healthy; it simply transforms a candy bar into an overpriced nutrient-enriched candy bar.
5. Almond butter
People like their nut butters sweet, which explains why most peanut butters come loaded with sugar. Almond butters can also contain added sugar, providing a great example of how a perfectly healthy food can become botched when you don’t read labels. A commercial “no-stir” almond butter I found contains organic evaporated cane sugar as its second ingredient. Read labels and find one with 100 percent raw organic almonds and nothing else.
You’re not alone if you become overwhelmed with the vast yogurt array in your grocery dairy aisle. Some of them, especially fruit-on-the-bottom yogurts, could have as much sugar as a candy bar. One popular non-fat Greek yogurt sweetened with honey packs 29 grams of sugar in a tiny container. If you’re not dairy-intolerant, stick with full-fat unsweetened Greek yogurt. If you need some sweetness to balance that tartness, stir in some frozen raspberries or blueberries.
7. Protein shakes
Pretty packages promise certain amounts of protein or maybe nutrients, but many commercial protein powders don’t broadcast high amounts of sugar, artificial sweeteners, or excessive sugar alcohols to flavor up their mixes. Low is the best way to go here, ideally five grams (preferably less) of added sugar per serving. Otherwise you can easily create what becomes a protein-enriched milkshake.
8. Wheat bread
Long positioned as a healthier alternative, most commercial wheat breads come stripped of fiber and loaded with the same added sugar, preservatives, and other junk as white bread. “Two slices of whole wheat bread now raise your blood sugar more than two tablespoons of table sugar,” writes Dr. Mark Hyman. “There is no difference between whole wheat and white flour here. The biggest scam perpetrated on the unsuspecting public is the inclusion of ‘whole grains’ in many processed foods full of sugar and wheat, giving the food a virtuous glow.” Instead of wheat bread and wraps, opt for gluten-free rice wraps or coconut wraps.
9. Green juices
You wouldn’t sit down and eat four pieces of fruit, but a juice can easily pack that much sugar without fiber to buffer it out. Because they’re lower in sugar, vegetable juices at least sound better, yet bottled juices can be misleading. One commercial green drink sounds like a vegetable juice but is actually mostly fruit, promising “no sugar added” even as the entire 15.2 ounce bottle contains almost 12 teaspoons of naturally occurring sugar. If you juice, go mostly green (vegetables) with a little lemon.