Curb your sugar intake by getting wise to foods with hidden sugars. You may be surprised at some of the culprits on this list compiled by Dr Sarah Brewer.

We all know that cakes, biscuits, chocolate and ice cream are full of sugar. But it’s often added to food we think of as savoury, like tinned soups, bottled pasta sauces and ready meals. If you want to reduce the amount of sugar in your diet, check the labels carefully so you don’t get caught out by foods with hidden sugars.

Remember, it’s the added ‘free’ sugars that we are advised to cut down on, not those found naturally in whole fruit and veg. We shouldn’t be eating more than 30g of free sugars a day – that’s about 7 teaspoons (4.2 grams is equal to about 1 teaspoon). 

Top foods with hidden sugars

Low Fat Yogurt

Low fat yogurt

A low fat fruit yogurt may have added sugar to provide flavour as well as ‘mouth feel’. A 6oz (170g) yogurt can contain as much as 32g sugar. Check labels and select the yogurt with the lowest amount of sugar. A 150g pot of Greek style plain yogurt made from whole milk typically provides around 5g sugar, for example –  add flavour with fresh berries, nuts or a tablespoon of unsweetened muesli.  My favourite Fage Total yogurt (5% fat) has no added sugar and contains only naturally occurring milk sugar (lactose) provides just 3g sugar (plus 9g protein) per 100g and is delicious and creamy enough to eat on its own.

Tomato Soup

Tomato soup

A single serving of savoury, tinned tomato soup can contain as much as 12g free sugar (3 teaspoonfuls).  Compare labels on tins or packs, or better yet, make your own from fresh chopped tomatoes (coming into season now), onion, carrot, celery, vegetable stock and plenty of fresh herbs.

Flavoured Water

Flavoured water

Water flavoured with fruit and added vitamins and minerals is bound to be healthy, right? Not necessarily. Some brands contain as much as 13g sugar per serving (237g). Make your own by adding slivers of cucumber, chopped fresh mint and/or slices of lime to a jug of water instead. You can also buy drink bottles with separate slots into which you can place your fresh fruit.

Cereal Bars

cereal bar

There has been a lot of publicity around the amount of sugar found in some breakfast cereals. Sugar-frosted cornflakes can contain 11.5g sugar per 30gram serving, for example, while granola with dried fruit, nuts or seeds, which sounds healthy, can have almost 11g sugar per 60g serving, too. It’s therefore not surprising that some seemingly healthy cereal bars can pack lots of sugar, too. A small, fruit-filed grain bar (37g) can contain 13g sugar while a larger (116g) bar can provide a whopping 39g sugar. Best advice if you want to cut back on sugar is to check labels, select those with the lowest sugar and energy values overall, cut back on serving sizes (or at least don’t super-size) and if you have a sweet tooth, retrain it so you need less sugar or artificial sweeteners.

Other surprising foods with hidden sugars

  • Baked beans
    9.8g sugar per half can
    Most of the sugar lies in the sauce, so simply drain your beans for less sauce and less sugar.
  • Tonic water
    12g sugar per 250ml serving
    Sparkling water has no sugar so try swapping to that with a squeeze of lemon or lime for a fresh flavour.
  • Ready-made sushi
    9.3g sugar per 100g serving
    We think of sushi as a healthy on-the-go lunch option but the rice is made with added sugar. Go for tuna and salmon options which have more protein to fill you up and remove some of the rice.
  • Sweet and sour chicken ready meal
    33g sugar per serving
    Some of the sugar may be naturally occurring in pineapple and other veg in the sauce, but most of it will be added. A chicken chow mein ready meal has about a third of the sugar content.
  • Kellogg’s All-Bran
    7.2g sugar per 40g serving
    It may be high in fibre but it also contains nearly two teaspoons of sugar. Make porridge with added wheatbran for a fibre boost without the added sugar.
  • Sandwich pickle
    4.4g sugar per 15g serving
    As well as tang and crunch, pickle adds a teaspoon of sugar to your sandwich. Add thin slices of pickled gherkin or cucumber instead which have far less sugar.
  • Salad cream
    2.6g sugar per 15g serving
    Sauces and accompaniments are often a source of added sugars. The amounts may not be huge, but they all add up. Mayonnaise, including the light versions, is a lower sugar choice with less than 0.5g per 15g serving.
  • Wholemeal bagel
    5.5g sugar per bagel
    Many bread products have sugar added to them. Rye bread has about a sixth of the sugar content so try that instead.
  • Pasta sauce
    9g sugar per 125g serving
    Naturally occurring sugars in tomatoes account for some of the quantity here, but there is added sugar too. It’s so easy to make your own and you can add in extra veg as well.

More information

Dr Sarah Brewer

Dr Sarah Brewer works on the medical advisory board for CuraLin, the all-natural supplement that helps people with diabetes balance their blood sugar levels, naturally. CuraLin (RRP £59, is a specially tailored natural formula that promotes healthy and balanced blood sugar levels and insulin production in those suffering from Type 2 Diabetes.