All the Places Sugar Hides in Food

Let’s make one thing real clear: I like sugar. Please reference these amazing cookies Lola made that I had trouble stepping away from. Cookies are surely one of the primary ways sugar was intended to be used, and I’m grateful some wise soul invented them.  

But I have an issue with sugar in unnecessary places. When I began my healthy-ish journey, I really started looking at labels. The number of places sugar shows up unannounced and unwelcome is staggering. Do you think of mustard as a sweet food? Me neither, but it’s there. Sugar is addicting. And unfortunately, when it’s put into many foods where it’s actually not needed, our brains just crave it more. Here’s how WebMD describes it

“Sugar fuels every cell in the brain. Your brain also sees sugar as a reward, which makes you keep wanting more of it.”

I translate this as – if I’m eating hidden sugar all day in little bits, it’s way more likely to make my brain want ALL the cookies later. 

Checking The Labels

My philosophy is to try and avoid sugar in the foods where it really has no place. Don’t let words like “natural” mislead you into thinking something has no sugar. Oftentimes even organic foods contain organic sugar and “low fat” foods replace the brain satisfying component of fat with… you guessed it, sugar. Here are my top tips to help you look:

Tip #1: Check labels, check labels, check labels. 

It can be more expensive and annoying, but looking for Paleo/Whole 30/Keto compliant condiments is a good option too because those cannot contain sugar. While there may be an extra bit of spend, often many of them are really simple. Like so simple you can make them yourself. Things like ranch dressing are typically easy, contain no sugar and are far more tasty when you make them quickly at home.

Tip #2: Become a linguist. 

There are more ways than one to say sugar. Dextrose, corn syrup, cane crystals, cane sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, corn sweetener, evaporated cane juice, fructose, glucose, maltodextrin, they’re all just different ways to say it. So read labels for all of these other versions of the word! 

Tip #3: Try your recipes without the sugar. 

For example, I often leave sugar out of homemade pancakes. Let’s be honest, if they have syrup on top, so who needs a ton of sugar in the actual batter? No one misses it. I find that maple syrup or honey are great substitutes for sugar in baked goods, and I shared one of my favorites here

5 Foods With Hidden Sugar

On my latest trip to the grocery store, I found several common everyday foods that do not qualify as a dessert to me. It would be worth looking into what you find in your pantry! 

Peanut Butter 

  • I checked five brands at the store, including one labeled “natural” and they ALL had sugar. This one has two forms of sugar as the main ingredients following peanuts.

Spaghetti Sauce

  • Spaghetti sauce is so flavorful and tomatoes are naturally sweet, especially when cooked. So added sugars make very little sense to me. Two of the many brands I checked are labeled “organic” or “farmer’s market” which you would think mean sugar free, but nope. 


  • I did an inventory of six different brands of bread, and every single one of them had sugar. They were all whole wheat of some variety. This one was perhaps the most misleading. The label calls it healthy and notes specifically the simple, “no added nonsense” ingredients. Which is fine, if you consider sugar a necessary ingredient to bread. 

Ranch Dressing

  • Similar to bread, I recently checked five different varieties at a local store and every last one had sugar. Again, it’s the one with labels that scream “I’m perfect and healthy” that then have sugar as the 4th ingredient PLUS two other forms of sugar listed that really annoys me.

Chicken broth 

  • It can be tough to find chicken broth without sugar. Even if you find a brand you like, check the varieties. For example, I like the vegetable broth from Pacific, but many of the other broths from Pacific have sugar. 

It’s worth repeating to close out this blog by saying – I LIKE SUGAR! I just want to eat it when it’s a conscious choice I’m making. Share your tips for decreasing sugar in your foods.