One of the mistakes we made early in our keto lifestyle was failing to realize just how much sugar is hidden in foods.
Since our body converts carbohydrates into glucose (sugar), we can include ingredients like flours and grains in this sugar category.
Today, I’ll share with you some of the common places sugar and carbohydrates are hiding in food to help you avoid the frustration of not getting the results you want.
Where Sugar Hides
I’ll list these out from the least to most shocking places sugar is hiding in plain sight. In the end, I’ll share how you can research other foods or brands I don’t mention here so you’ll always be empowered to make an informed decision.
Additionally, I have a keto grocery store tour where I walk you through a larger store in our area and teach on different products and what to watch out for on labels because of the tricks marketers play with labeling.
One tip I’ll share now is to never ever trust a package that says “keto” or “low-carb”. Currently, these are not FDA-regulated terms, they are simply marketing terms. So, let these words on a label raise a red flag and approach the product with a hefty level of skepticism.
Cured Meats such as bacon, sausage, brats, ham, salami, pastrami, cold cuts, or any other meat that’s been cured have hidden sugar in them. This is because curing meat is a preservation process that uses salt, sugar, and nitrite or nitrate. So, almost all cured meats contain sugar.
There are some brands of cured meats on the market that don't use sugar because so many consumers are trying to avoid it. The brands I know of at the time of this blog are ButcherBox and Applegate Farms (not available online SO here's a great no-sugar brand we found: Pedersons No Sugar Meats Bundle).
Click the link for more details and a special offer you can grab if you’d like to try ButcherBox. This is where we get our ham, hotdogs, and bacon. And, if you know of a brand, comment and let us know and we’ll add it to our list.
Ketchup, BBQ sauce, pasta sauces, salsa’s and other tomato-based products naturally have higher sugar content because of the tomatoes, but many products also have sugar added to them.
Milk & Dairy
Naturally occurring milk sugar is called lactose. Take a look at a milk carton nutrition facts label and you’ll notice sugars. There are many dairy products that are low in lactose and therefore low in sugar such as heavy cream and aged cheeses.
Salad dressing almost always has sugar added. Many people will choose to make their own at home or purchase some of the more expensive brands that have removed sugar from their salad dressing formulation because it’s what consumers are asking for.
Most brands of mayonnaise contain sugar to enhance the flavor. Be especially careful of flavored mayonnaise and read the ingredients list carefully. Here are some links to the mayo’s we’ve researched for you:
It is very common for nut butters to contain some form of sugar so pay close attention to the ingredients list on any pre-packaged nut butter. Some stores allow you to grind your own nut butter these days or you can make your own at home in small batches as needed with a high-powered blender or food processor.
Dairy-Free & Vegan Products
Dairy-free and vegan products often have a base of some kind of carbohydrate. Also beware of any product labeled “fat-free” or “light” because when fat is removed, sugar is usually added to enhance the flavor.
Even if you’re making a marinade homemade, a recipe will usually call for some form of sugar. The same goes for what you find on the store shelves and for pre-marinated meats.
Some mustards and many sauces are packed full of sugars. Be sure and read beyond the nutrition facts and read the ingredients list and steer clear of the product when sugar is in the list.
Many spice blends contain sugar because it provides a nice taste to foods. Some common examples of spice blends that contain sugar are cajun blackening blends, espresso rubs, mesquite or hickory rubs, steak and burger seasonings, pork seasonings, and anything with sweet in the name.
Sugar-Free Sweetener Packets
If you take a moment to look at the ingredient list… you may be surprised to see (stevia in the raw for the purposes of this example) “stevia, dextrose, sugar” or “stevia, maltodextrin”.
Why do they have to add to stevia? Why can’t they only have “stevia” be in stevia? Because stevia is 1-300x sweeter than sugar, the amount of stevia that needs to be in that packet is SO small the packet would feel empty… so they mix in other ingredients to make that little packet have substance. Labeling regulations in the United States only require the packet to be under 5 calories.
Salt, A Surprising Place For Sugar
The most surprising place sugar is hiding in food is in salt. This is especially true of salt packets. My husband figured this out one summer when he was at annual training for the national guard and doing some fasting.
It was very very hot and humid and he had forgotten to put his Redmond’s Real Salt back in his pocket that morning. So, he grabbed a packet out of an MRE and dumped it in his mouth. He instantly noticed that the salt tasted sweet and looked at the packet to find the ingredients say, "salt, sugar". When he shared this with me I started paying attention and have found many of the salt packets I’ve come across in restaurants and while traveling to also contain sugar. Why?
Sugar is an anti-caking agent often added to salt to prevent clumping. Some restaurants will even mix in some sugar for this purpose when they fill their salt shakers.
Check out Redmond’s website and use coupon code TARAKETO for 15% off your purchase.
How To Tell How Much Sugar Is In A Product
How do you tell how much sugar is contained in a particular product? The absolute best way to determine how much sugar a food has in it is to read the ingredient list. These lists are designed in order from the most plentiful ingredient in the food down to the smallest amount.
For example, if you’re looking at a spice blend and the first ingredient is "sugar", put that right back on the store shelf. Instead, find a spice blend that doesn’t have sugar on the label at all. If you’re reading an ingredient list and aren’t sure what the ingredients are you can either look up the ingredient on your phone or just try to find a better alternative.
I hope this has helped educate you about where sugar is hiding in foods and will help prevent you from making some of the mistakes we did over the years while trying to avoid added sugar. If you have other ideas, questions, or comments, please drop those below.
Until next time, this is Health Coach Tara wishing you the very best of health.