If you're trying to kick the sugar habit, nixing the sweet stuff from your morning menu is a great place to start. Unfortunately, added sugar lurks in lots of seemingly healthy breakfast staples.
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Here's why: Often, food companies pack products with sugar to enhance their flavor or prolong shelf life. And that's bad news for your health.
"Added sugars are concentrated and do not come with natural fiber, like in fruit, to help slow down their absorption," says Leslie Langevin, RD, author of The Anti-Inflammatory Kitchen Cookbook. Instead, your body rapidly absorbs them, leading to a spike in blood sugar. But what goes up must come down — and when your sugar levels crash, you'll likely feel increasingly hungry, Langevin says.
In other words, if you start the day with a sugary breakfast, you initiate a vicious cycle that can leave you chasing the sugar high and craving more sweet foods.
And this blood-sugar rollercoaster can also cause long-term health issues: Eating excess sugar is tied to increasing your risk of high blood pressure, chronic inflammation, weight gain, diabetes and fatty liver disease, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
And that's not all. Taking in too much added sugar may also lead to heart problems. An April 2014 study published in JAMA International Medicine found a significant link between added sugar intake and a higher probability of heart disease-related death.
How Can You Tell If You're Eating Too Much Sugar?
Below, Langevin highlights six common breakfast foods that may be harboring a surplus of sugars and offers tips on how to slash the extra sweetness from your first meal of the day.
Unless you drink your coffee black, odds are you're getting some sugar with your morning cup of joe. According to a May 2017 study in Public Health, almost 68 percent of coffee consumers drank their java with some type of add-in, including sugar and other sweeteners. What's more, over 60 percent of the calories in the participants' beverages came from added sugar.
A measly three-teaspoon serving of Coffee mate French Vanilla Flavor Coffee Creamer contains 5 grams of added sugar. But, if you drink more than one serving, you can easily ingest way more sugar than what it says on the label. Instead, opt for a splash of plain heavy cream to lend your joe rich flavor without added sugars.
Same goes for soy- and nut-based milks. These seemingly healthy dairy alternatives often hide excess sugars. Take Silk Original Almond Milk, which totals 7 grams of added sugar per cup.
So, when you pour creamer or non-dairy milk into your morning brew, make sure to choose unsweetened varieties and stick to the serving size.
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2. Packaged, Flavored Oatmeal
Bad news, morning oat-eaters. Flavored oatmeal is often teeming with extra sugar. One packet of Quaker Instant Oatmeal in Apples and Cinnamon contains 11 grams of sugar, eight of which are added. That means that only 3 grams come from the actual apples, Langevin says.
Instead of instant oatmeal, choose fiber-rich steel-cut or rolled oats. "You can microwave plain oats from scratch just as fast," says Langevin, who recommends adding protein powder or ground flaxseed to make them more filling. And if you're still hankering for a bit of sweetness, add a few sliced apples or another fruit.
Choose These Instead
- Quaker Old-Fashioned Rolled Oats (0 grams of added sugar; $19.99 per 4-pack on Amazon.com)
- Modern Oats 5-Berry Oatmeal (0 grams of added sugar; $27.99 per 12-pack on Amazon.com)
3. Flavored Yogurt
Sure, yogurt makes a quick-and-easy, portable breakfast on the go. But if you're not careful, you might be consuming more sugar, corn syrup or sucralose (a non-nutritive zero-calorie sweetener) than you bargained for, according to Langevin.
For example, a Yoplait Original Blueberry Yogurt has a total of 22 grams of sugar — 17 grams of which are added sugar. In other words, only 5 grams account for the natural sugar found in milk called lactose and the rest is all void of nutritional value. Yowza.
Instead, opt for a high-protein, plain Greek yogurt, which has a lower sugar count, says Langevin. You can even toss a handful of fresh blueberries on top.
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Bread lovers, beware: Your favorite slice may be concealing more sweeteners than you think. According to Langevin, "sugar is often added to bread to improve its texture and taste." Even whole-wheat breads aren't exempt. Case in point: Two slices of Arnold 100% Whole Wheat Bread contain 6 grams of added sugar.
But, if you can't imagine giving up your toast in the morning, don't fret. Despite a few added sugars, whole grain and seedy breads generally include good-for-you fiber, which offers the best blood sugar response, says Langevin.
To cut down excess sugar intake, consider eating one slice instead of two, and smear it with a healthy, satisfying fat such as sugar-free nut butter or smashed avocado.
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A tall glass of refreshing OJ is practically synonymous with a hearty breakfast. Hate to break it to you, but many juices on the market are anything but healthy thanks to all the excess sugar.
But even natural juice (with no sugary additives) is still loaded with natural sugars, sometimes 25 grams or more, according to Langevin. For instance, Tropicana Pure Premium Original is 100-percent pure orange juice, but still boasts a total of 22 grams of sugar (zero added).
Even though natural juice provides many important vitamins and minerals, the juicing process concentrates the sugar and strips away most of the fiber, leading to fast digestion and blood sugar spikes. That is, juice is missing some of the healthiest parts of the fruit, and drinking too much of it may harm you in the long run.
Matter of fact, sipping more than half a cup of 100-percent fruit juice each day is associated with a 16-percent higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to a study published in the September 2019 issue of Diabetes Care.
"If you are going to drink juice, limit your intake to less than four ounces per day and mix it with seltzer," says Langevin, who suggests, "pairing it with some nuts or a little cheese to reduce your blood sugar spikes." And if fresh OJ is your thing, try a tall glass of ice water with a juicy orange wedge.
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Like oats, food manufacturers often sneak extra sugar — especially natural sweeteners — into good ol' granola. A prime example is Cascadian Farm's Oats & Honey Granola with 14 grams of added sugar for every two-thirds cup thanks to ingredients like cane sugar, honey and molasses.
So, if your go-to breakfast is granola, what should you do? Choose low-sugar granola with protein powder or lots of nuts or seeds, which will help slow digestion and stabilize blood sugar, Langevin says. And, "think of granola as a condiment for plain Greek yogurt." Just sprinkle a little on top to keep your breakfast's sugar count in check.
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- Public Health: “Consumption of coffee and tea with add-ins in relation to daily energy, sugar, and fat intake in US adults, 2001–2012.”
- JAMA International Medicine: “Added sugar intake and cardiovascular diseases mortality among US adults.”
- Harvard Health Publishing: “The sweet danger of sugar.”
- Diabetes Care: “Changes in Consumption of Sugary Beverages and Artificially Sweetened Beverages and Subsequent Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: Results From Three Large Prospective U.S. Cohorts of Women and Men”