Do You Know Where to Find Sugar?





There’s been a lot of press recently about how sugary our breakfast cereals really are. Breakfast cereals are one aisle in the supermarket, and so we were prompted to dive into the GoodGuide database to see what we could learn about other commonly consumed foods. The pie charts above, a peek into what we found, are divided by the proportion of products in our database that fall below GoodGuide’s sugar threshold (green) vs. the proportion of products exceeding the threshold (red). These charts highlight that there are good and bad choices (specifically when it comes to sugar) within individual food categories. Also, you can infer that if you’re shopping in a supermarket, it’s much easier to find a healthy cereal than a healthy yogurt.

We took a look at pie charts for all of the major food categories and drew some conclusions that will be useful as you go about your grocery shopping.

1) It’s not just breakfast cereals that have us fooled. While broad product categories (or put another way, types of food) may technically be good dietary choices, the actual items in the supermarket that fall under this category aren’t necessarily that great for us. Take yogurt for example, a dairy product that is quite good for you in plain form. Based on statistics from our food database, nearly 80% of commercially available yogurt products have high amounts of sugar (over 15g/serving). The lesson? Don’t let generalizations guide the way you shop for food, check labels, or simply use GoodGuide to separate the wheat from the chaff.

2) Commercially available toaster pastries, muffins, and cereal bars are rarely good choices for breakfast. The majority of them that are available in stores have considerably more sugar than you’d expect. If you like these items, try to make them at home so that you have more control over the ingredients that go into them. Or, check our ratings to find out which products aren’t trying to sneak in as a healthy start to your day.

3) Those soy yogurts? Tons of sugar. Those opting to avoid dairy for health reasons may inadvertently overdoing it on sugar. Keep in mind that sweeteners are often added to make up for lost flavor in soy-based dairy alternatives – and this shouldn’t be one of those situations where a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.

4) The charts confirm some basics. Bagels, a traditionally savory item, haven’t been candified, and there are plenty of them to select from if you want to control your sugar intake (carbohydrate intake is another story). Hard candy, on the other hand, is a guaranteed way to get your sugar fix. One surprise: Not all cookies are loaded with sugar.

Are there other categories that you think have a reputation for being healthy in theory, but not in execution? Why do you think some product categories are filled with such sweet choices, when they really don’t need to be from a culinary standpoint? Share your thoughts in the comments. To see ratings for products in the categories below, click on each pie chart.

About Sheila Viswanathan

Sheila Viswanathan focuses on educating individuals on how to make healthier dietary choices. She received her doctoral degree in Nutrition and Public Health from Teachers College, Columbia University and is certified as a registered dietitian.
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4 Responses to Do You Know Where to Find Sugar?

  1. Elena says:

    This would be more useful if it gave the specific brands etc. that were in the “green” category.

  2. Fer Palasthy says:

    like your article. A short explanation about red and green in the pies could be an improvement.

  3. w1z111 says:

    It seems that manufacturers just want to deceive at every turn…especially about ingredients that become controversial or otherwise under scrutiny regarding its “goodness”. Of course, case in point recently is high-fructose-corn-syrup.

    Over the years there have been lots of similar kinds of issues, and the FDA and manufacturers usually end up putting out new names for the questionable ingredients, or they poo-poo any scientific evidence or studies as being “flawed”; buying valuable time for more profits…at the expense of millions of unsuspecting consumers.

    Some time ago, I researched and wrote about sugars in our foods, and was shocked to learn how many different names might represent some kind of sweetener-type substance…not necessarily the same as “sugar” (as we generally think of it), but similar enough to do the job at hand. What we don’t always know is how some of these ingredients may affect health, unfortunately.

    I invite you to visit the article at:

    Keep up the good work, GoodGuide! Who knows? Maybe one day people will actually be able to get truly safe consumer products that present no health hazards, etc. And, maybe that will lead to a healthier population overall…gee, what will all the doctors and hospitals and insurance companies do then?

    Hmmm…..I’m just sayin’…

  4. Pingback: 12 Tips For A Healthy 2012 | GoodGuide Blog

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