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Hidden Sugar

hidden sugar in food
hidden sugar

Sugar is everywhere. And we mean everywhere. That sneaky ingredient is on the prowl and ready to sabotage your effort to reduce your sugar consumption to begin living a low-sugar lifestyle.

As a nation, we’ve developed a sugar addiction: the average American consumes 19.5 teaspoons (82 grams) every day (CDC). Why? Because sugar makes us feel good. Not because it’s good for us, but because it stimulates dopamine (that feel-good hormone) production in the brain. This creates a literal sugar addiction that causes us to crave sugar, gives us a high, and leaves us to crash needing more.

But don’t blame yourself for your sugar cravings. Over the years, hidden sugars have been creeping into places you’d least expect them. Back in the day fat was originally thought of as the culprit in the obesity crisis, leading many brands to cut fat from their foods and add sugar to make up for the loss in taste. As fat consumption decreased, sugar consumption increased – causing a simultaneous spike in diabetes and obesity (National Geographic).

As I journey through life as a low-sugar lifestyle, I already know the power of fat and the danger of sugar. But you might not be aware of just how prevalent sugar has become in a wide variety of grocery staples. As a result, keeping your sugar consumption low takes more than just avoiding the obvious culprits like slices of bread, cookies, and candy.

Here are a few places where sugars love to hide:

Condiments:  When you’re trying to spice up those leafy greens, be wary of salad dressings, ketchups, and other condiments. The good news? It’s really easy to make your own dressings and condiments using oils, herbs, and full-fat creams.

Yogurt: Full-fat Greek yogurt is an awesome treat, but flavored Greek yogurts (especially the fruity ones) can have tons of sugar. Opt for the plain, full-fat yogurt, Keto-friendly yougurts or zero sugar brands and add fruits (like raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries) yourself.

Tomato Sauce: If you dream of a low-carb chicken parmesan, know that tomato sauce off the shelf can have as much as 10 grams of sugar per half-cup serving. It can be almost impossible to find a sugar-free tomato sauce at the store, so your safest bet is to either make it yourself or opt for a drizzle of olive oil with fresh garlic.

Homemade Tomato Sauce


  • 1 can (28 oz) of crushed tomatoes (look for no-sugar-added varieties)

  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced

  • 1 small onion, finely chopped

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • Salt and pepper to taste

  • Dried herbs like basil, oregano, or thyme (optional)

  • two stevia packet


  1. Sauté Aromatics: In a saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add minced garlic and chopped onion. Sauté until softened and fragrant, about 3-4 minutes.

  2. Add Stevia and Crushed Tomatoes: Pour in the can of crushed tomatoes and stevia. Stir well to combine with the garlic and onion mixture.

  3. Season: Season the sauce with salt, pepper, and any dried herbs you prefer (basil, oregano, or thyme work well). Adjust the seasoning to your taste.

  4. Simmer: Bring the sauce to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and let it simmer gently for about 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. This helps develop the flavors and thickens the sauce.

  5. Adjust Consistency: If the sauce is too thick, you can add a splash of water or broth to reach your desired consistency.

  6. Taste and Adjust: Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning if needed. You can add a pinch of sugar substitute (like erythritol or stevia) if you prefer a slightly sweeter taste, but the natural sweetness of the tomatoes often suffices.

  7. Serve or Store: Once done, use the sauce immediately or let it cool and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. It also freezes well for longer storage.

This homemade tomato sauce is versatile and can be used in pasta dishes, pizzas, or as a dipping sauce. Enjoy your zero-sugar sauce!

Alcohol Mixers: My own belief is to kick alcoholism to the curve but if this is your vice you have to watch out for sugar-packed mixers. Standard margarita mix can have as much as 24 grams of sugar, while tonic can have as much as 32 grams of sugar! Sip your hard liquor straight or choose a sugar-free option like club soda.

Nut Milks: For our lactose-intolerant, nut milk can be a tasty, low-carb alternative – just be sure to choose the unsweetened variety and be wary of anything flavored. Sweetened almond milk can have as much as 14 grams of carbs and 13 grams of sugar!

Protein Powders: Protein and meal replacement shakes play a prominent role in the low-sugar lifestyle diet, but they can be hiding a lot of sugar choose carefully.

Jerky and Bacon: These are some handy protein treats, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find either of these in-store without sugar. Brown sugar, cane syrup, and maple syrup are a few of the usual suspects lurking in both bacon and jerky. There are a few paleo-friendly store brands sans sugar, just be sure to read the label. Also, consider biltong as a jerky alternative. Biltong is a minimally processed, flavorful, air-dried meat. 

Soups: During the winter, there’s nothing like a piping hot bowl of soup. However, canned, pre-made, and powdered soup options can be hiding tons of sugar – even in soups without all the carb-heavy the fixings. Bone broth is a fantastic low-sugar alternative that can bridge the gap between what you want and what you need.

 If you’ve noticed a theme, it’s this: read the label and/or make it yourself. Food companies have an incentive to add sugar to their foods – it makes their products tastier and more addictive, thus increasing the chance that you’ll feel compelled to purchase again. There are many companies that make convenient and delicious products without added sugars, such as keto-friendly products but they just take a little bit of diligence to find.

 Knowing is half the battle. Now it’s up to you to take charge of the foods in your life.



I Can Help in Developing A Plan For Self Care

Do you want help developing a self-care plan that works for your own busy schedule? Do you want accountability in implementing a self-care plan? If you or someone you love is struggling to maintain optimal mental and emotional health, consider reaching out to Spiced Life Conversation Art Wellness Studio and Botanica. We are a Metro Atlanta, Conyers Georgia area. We are a coaching and counseling practice with empathetic, skilled counselors and recovery coaches who can help you set goals, develop a self-care routine, and move forward to build a more fulfilling life. Our team would be happy to work with you either just for a couple of sessions to develop and implement a Self-care plan or longer term to work toward overall better mental health within our membership site or other programs.

Dr. Nikki LeToya White
Dr. Nikki LeToya White

About The Author:

Dr. Nikki LeToya White MSEd-TL, Ph.D. RHN is the founder, director, and full-time board-certified trauma-informed nutritionist, folk herbalist, and wellness consultant at Spiced Life Conversation Art Wellness Studio and Botanica. She created Spiced Life Conversation, LLC Art Wellness Studio, and Botanica to provide the Metro Atlanta area with counseling and coaching services where clients are carefully matched with the right program for healing abandonment and childhood emotional neglect trauma that cause codependency, emotional eating, financial stress, and imposter syndrome as it relates to the fear of success and being abandon. We help you begin your emotional healing journey with ease. Recently, we have expanded to include an online membership site so we now provide support to people living all over the world. All of our recovery coaches provide at least one evidence-based treatment to assist in your recovery. Dr. White is a big proponent of self-care and helping people live a fulfilling life! She has been in full remission with both codependency and emotional binge eating disorder since 2016. In living a life in recovery from sugar addiction. I love my low-sugar balanced lifestyle.

Best Regard

Dr. Nikki LeToya White


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