The danger with eating foods high in sugar stems from their effects on blood sugar, says Perlmutter. “Foods are rated in terms of how they elevate blood sugar by their glycemic index,” he explains. “The higher the glycemic index, the higher the blood sugar elevation and the length of time the blood sugar will remain elevated.”
“Creamy dressings often create a high sugar impact, but balsamic can contain just as much,” says JJ Virgin, celebrity nutritionist and author of JJ Virgin’s Sugar Impact Diet. The reason: A lot of American-made balsamic vinegar is made with caramel coloring and cornstarch—two sugary substances—with the vinegar base being white wine vinegar. Why? The authentic, Italian versions require a 12- to 25-year aging process that negates the need for coloring and thickening additives, but not everyone wants to pay—or wait—for those products to be imported over. So if you’re ordering a salad in a restaurant, Virgin advises against their version of balsamic. “Instead, ask for extra-virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar for all the flavor without the sugar impact.”
Here’s the good news: Not all oatmeal is on the too-much-sugar list. But those who rely on the take-along pouches (or have an aversion to waiting for a pot to boil) are most likely beginning their day with a serious blood sugar kick. “It seems like most everyone agrees that oatmeal is a good choice for breakfast,” says Perlmutter. But in actuality, many instant packets contain 13 grams or more of the sweet stuff because of all the additional flavorings (think maple and brown sugar, apples and cinnamon). If you’ve got the time, opt for steel-cut oats for a higher dose of fiber. Otherwise, you can still choose the quick-cooking variety, just grab the plain packet and add a dollop of almond butter—which research shows can help stabilize blood sugar throughout the day—for flavor, protein, and healthy fats.
Hyman refers to this group—the one with gluten-free cookies, cakes and processed food—as junk food. “Just because it’s gluten-free doesn’t mean it’s healthy,” he says. “Gluten-free cakes and cookies are still cakes and cookies,” which means they’re made with sugar. In fact, most contain excess sugars and gum to make up for the missing ingredients, and those are even more difficult for the body to break down.
Bummer: One of the most popular breakfast drinks in America isn’t doing wonders for your waist. “A 12-ounce glass of orange juice contains about 36 grams, or seven teaspoons, of sugar,” says Perlmutter. “Almost all fruit juices are concentrated sources of sugar” because they strip the fiber out of the fruit when it’s sent through a juicer.
Yes, even though Greek yogurt is a fabulous source of protein, calcium and probiotics, not all varieties are created equal. Some contain naturally occurring sugars, while others—those with fruit on the bottom, dessert-like flavorings, or mix-in nuts, for example—have extra doses added.
Many foods labeled as a “diet” product, like 100-calorie snacks and desserts, are anything but because of their fake sugar content, says Hyman. “We’re surrounded by low-calorie, ‘health-conscious foods’ and diet soft drinks that contain sweeteners,” he says. “As a result, the number of Americans who eat products that contain sugar-free sweeteners grew from 70 million in 1987 to 160 million in 2000.