So you decide to eat healthy and become a conscious consumer.
You agree that refined or added sugar isn’t for you anymore because of what you have read in the media or because your doctor has told you that you are prediabetic or diabetic.
The last thing you would expect is that many of the foods and snacks you thought were sugar-free may actually contain the same or even more sugar than the foods you are giving up. Sadly, for most consumers, this is more of the reality.
For reference, let’s understand some terms about sugar:
Naturally-occurring sugar is found in fruits, vegetables and dairy and usually mixed in with fibre and other nutrients contained within that food.
Refined sugars are found in processed foods and locally comes from sugar cane.
Added sugars are preparations that come in the form of high fructose corn syrup, dextrose or sucrose among others.
Hidden sugars are disguised as health foods with very deceptive marketing such as “heart-healthy” or “natural” or “reduced sugar”.
1 gram of sugar = 4 non-heaped teaspoons of sugar
The following products found on ‘Trini’ shelves contain either refined, added or hidden sugar:
1) White flour products- possibly one of the largest sources of blood-raising, insulin-spiking sugar is white flour. Flour is one of the main ingredients in almost every Caribbean meal. From bread, roti, doubles and pies to currants rolls, drops, donuts and cookies, we are addicted to flour-containing products. That addiction can be partly explained by the addictiveness of the sugar that white flour contains. White flour digests just as fast as table sugar and causes an insulin spike the same way table sugar does. After all, flour is a carbohydrate. One slice of bread can contain, for example, 1 teaspoon of sugar. If you eat six slices of bread per day it means you have also consumed 6 teaspoons of sugar. Good alternatives are 100% whole-grain bread and cassava flour. But do remember they still contain varying amounts of sugar so watch how much you eat. When we add other sugar-rich ingredients to our sandwich or pastries like jam or peanut butter we also add more sugar.
2) Delicacies- many ‘Trinis' indulge themselves in ceremonial sweets. While not an everyday occurrence it should be noted that parsad, sawine, halwa, khurma, sweet rice, burfi, gulab jamoon among others are basically flour and sugar with milk, oil or ghee. While it is not nice in our tradition to refuse a sweet bag after a prayers, make sure you eat it in moderation and not frequently or else you may end up with a belly.
3) Breakfast cereal- a trip to the grocery store and the kids and the kid in you will be easily attracted to the popular brands of cereal with a superhero, recognisable face or fancy marketing pitch. The reality is that most cereals contain 2 to 5 teaspoons of sugar per serving usually in the form of refined sugar or high fructose corn syrup. Also be aware of the dyes used in the colourful cereals. A handful of flax meal, chia seeds and whole oats with some cranberries and raisins in unsweetened almond milk is a good alternative.
4) Juices- many juices contain more sugar than the average soft drink. Some local brands contain up to 8 teaspoons of sugar per serving. Coffee and iced tea drinks may also have a high sugar content. Read your labels! Simply infuse water with some oranges or lemon for a tasty and nutritious drink.
5) Canned foods- the next time you go to the supermarket and read a canned-food label you may be in shock to see sugar listed on the label. Some foreign and local brands add sugar or high fructose corn syrup to their canned products. However, spend some time looking through the shelves and you may find some that are sugar-free. Be mindful of the high-sodium in canned foods especially if you suffer from high blood pressure.
6) Pasta sauce- most sauces on local grocery shelves contain about 2 to 4 teaspoons of sugar per serving. Pasta sauces are among the easiest sauces to make at home with basic ingredients from your pantry. Try a few sugar-free recipes from the internet.
7) Yogurt- one of the biggest offenders regarding hidden sugar is yogurt. A review of labels for both imported and local made brands may have up to a whopping 8 teaspoons of sugar per serving! That is more sugar than an entire bottle or can of soft drink. Buy locally-sourced fermented milk and other fermented foods at farmers markets or learn how to make your own.
8) Salad dressing- you go to the salad bar or make your own salad at home with the idea that salad dressing will make it taste better. However, if you read the label for the salad dressing you would think twice as most commercial dressings may contain 2 to 3 teaspoons of sugar per serving bathed in unhealthy hydrogenated oils and additives. Salad dressing is easy to make at home once you have extra virgin olive oil, onion, garlic, salt and lemon juice.
9) Ketchup- West Indians love ketchup. We put ketchup on everything! But did you know most local brands use high fructose corn syrup and sugar with as much as 1 to 2 teaspoons of sugar per serving? The same may apply to store-bought barbecue sauces. Squash a tomato at home, add onion, garlic, black pepper, clove and salt, and you have yourself some ketchup.
10) Granola bars- usually touted as a healthy snack yet foreign or locally made granola bars can contain from 2 up to 6 teaspoons of sugar per serving! Many contain high fructose corn syrup, dextrose or brown and white sugar. Worse yet, many are cooked in hydrogenated oils or trans fats and are loaded with dyes and additives. Use pure granola, add some raw raisins and nuts, and drizzle with salt for a sugar-free alternative.
What other foods, drinks or snacks contain refined, added or hidden sugars at the grocery?
Leave comments down below.
Dr. Navi Muradali, DDS, MBBS is a medical doctor with a special focus on the oil and gas sector. He was a former City Medical Officer of Health (CMOH) and is the founder of Virtual Wellness.
Learn more: www.virtualwellnesstt.com
The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.