7 sugary foods that are pretending to be healthy

CC BY 2.0 Kurtis Garbutt

Convincing us that a food is healthy is a sure-fire marketing strategy for many processed food companies. But don’t listen to the hype: many processed foods are way too high in added sugars, which in addition to being flavor enhancers can also contribute to making a food more shelf-stable.

Having a dessert once in a while isn’t going to wreck your health, but all that added sugar in unsuspected places can really add up to bad health outcomes. Increased sugar intake has been linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity. The World Health Organization recommends that we get no more than five percent of our calories from added sugars, which comes out to be about 25 grams of sugar per day for most adults.

If we want to make sugar a reasonable proportion of our diets, these seemingly healthy foods should really get moved to the dessert category.

Low-fat yogurt

This food may be a good source of healthy probiotics, but most brands crank up the sugar when they reduce the fat. Chobani’s blueberry fruit on the bottom non-fat yogurt has 15 grams of sugar for a 5.3 oz serving, while Stonyfield’s blueberry fruit on the bottom has a whopping 22 grams of sugar per 6 oz serving. That’s more sugar than a serving of Oreos (14 grams).

Fruit juice

TreeHugger Katherine Martinko once compared orange juice to soda, and that’s not without merit. An 8-ounce glass of Nantucket Nectars Pomegranate Cherry juice has a whopping 27 grams of sugar—as much as a Snickers bar. It’s hard to say if the sugars that come from fruit juices are as bad for the body as more refined sugars, and there are lots of “no sugar added” juices out there, but making juice more concentrated can increase the sweetness without adding other sugars. Plus, heating, pasteurizing and other forms of processing can damage the nutrients in the fruit juice, so keep in mind that fruit juice can be high in calories but lack the fiber of whole fruit.

Flavored milks

It’s no surprise that chocolate milk is high in sugar, but your vanilla-flavored soy or coconut milk isn’t so innocent either. Silk’s vanilla soy milk has 8 grams of sugar per cup, which might not be so much when you’re topping off your morning coffee, but you may want to reconsider if it’s your main beverage.

Salad dressing

A teaspoon of sugar helps the salad go down? It’s not as crazy as you might think: Maple-Grove Farm’s low-fat raspberry vinaigrette has 8 grams of sugar for two tablespoons. Newman’s Own Honey French dressing has 5 grams of sugar for two tablespoons. Fortunately, the less sweet-sounding dressings often don’t have added sugar, but it’s still a good idea to check the label.


Cereal may be the original health food, first developed as a treatment for dyspepsia. But today, many of the healthy-looking options are chock-full of sugars, even the whole wheat versions. Dietitian Lori Zanini recommends looking for breakfast cereals with 10 grams of sugar or less. Sorry, Honey Bunches of Oats Whole Grain Honey Crunch, at 12 grams you don’t quite make the cut—but oddly the original Honey Roasted flavor does at just 6 grams of sugar. Hot cereals can also get loaded up with added sugar, so if oatmeal is your thing it’s better to skip the maple syrup favors and opt for plain oats.

Granola bars

Oh, the snack bar. It seems like such a good on-the-go food, and yet they really don’t offer much by way of nutrition. I compared 20 different popular granola bars, including flavors from Nature Valley, Quaker, Kashi, Nutri-Grain, and Annie’s. I found that bars range from 6 grams of sugar (Annie’s Peanut Butter Chewy Granola Bars) to 15 grams (Nutri-Grain Harvest Blueberry Bliss) and averaged 9.45 grams per bar.

Packaged gluten-free snacks

For the small percentage of people who suffer from Celiac disease and gluten allergies, the recent boom in gluten-free products can definitly make life easier. However, the boom also suggests that many people have confused “gluten-free” with “healthy” and that’s just not the case. So remember, cookies are still dessert, even if they’re grain-free.

7 sugary foods that are pretending to be healthy
Don’t listen to the package hype: many processed foods are way too high in added sugars.

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