Trying to watch your sugar count? Smart move. Most of us consume triple the amount we should in a day, according to the USDA — about 94g daily vs the 35g for men and 25g for women the American Heart Association recommends as the limit. (To visualize, a teaspoon of sugar contains about 4 grams.)
Although you should keep total sugar low, not all sugar is created equal. “Naturally occurring sugars, like glucose, fuel our bodies. Natural foods — like fruit — containing sugar are packed with beneficial fiber and phytonutrients,” says Maggie Michalczyk, MS, RD. That’s important as an athlete, because you need glucose for fuel pre- and post-workout.
Added sugars, however, are those snuck into packaged foods, many of which don’t even taste sweet. “These are often filled with empty calories that leave us unsatisfied and craving more sugar,” says Michalczyk. Care about your mental clarity and physical performance? Boot these secret sugar bombs from your diet.
Secret Sugar Bombs for Athletes to Avoid
What’s a naked burger or ribs without BBQ sauce? But many store brands of ketchup and sauce can have more than 9g sugar per 1 tbsp serving. That’s a lot! Also, who sticks to 1 tablespoon?
Read labels to ID brands that are low in sugar and to stick to two servings, max. “Look for bottles that say ‘no sugar added’ on the label,” says Michalczyk. Most mainstream brands are making a lower-sugar version. Or whip up your own healthy condiment.
Whole Wheat Bread
It’s got a rep for being healthy, but even fiber-packed whole wheat bread can have sugar. In fact, some brands contain more than 4g per slice, meaning your sammy clocks in at 8g or more — not counting the condiments.
Look for low sugar brands that have fewer than 3g per slice and don’t list sugar as the first ingredient. Or eat an open-faced sammy, so you can halve your intake and still get in the whole wheat benefits.
These swigs can pack more than 34g per 8 oz serving, according to Michalcyzk. If you’re buying bottled, read the label. You want 100% fruit juice and no artificial sweeteners.
Buzzing your own? Pick one or two fruits and then load it up with protein and veggies. If you’re using protein powder, make it one that’s low in sugar. Yogurt? Go for plain, unsweetened Greek style.
Look for “low sugar” on the label before you carb load with these secret sugar bombs. Marinara sauce can clock in at more than 10g per ½ cup serving. All that sugar can add up, especially if you pair your pasta with vino. (Never a bad match.)
“Some sauces have one gram, which is what I look for,” Michalcyzk says. You can also make your own, or just use olive oil and fresh herbs with protein, like chicken, to keep it simple and sugar-free.
Though yogurt is touted as a health food, depending on the type, the distinction is dubious. Some brands contain more than 19g per individual single-serving cup–a lot of “crack” for a snack. (If it’s a meal, you’re likely adding other items, bringing even more sugar.)
Follow Michalcyzk’s advice: Go for plain Greek yogurt for probiotic benefits and protein, and add your own serving of fresh fruit (stick to one), nuts, seeds, and other toppings that provide good fats and protein, not more sugar.