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Experiment Update: No Added Sugar – 10 Days In, Surprises and Disappointments

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This is Part 2 of a series.  Click here for Part 1.

It’s now been just a bit over a week with no added sugar, and overall it hasn’t been too bad.  Trips to the grocery store take a little longer due to the increased label reading, but selecting foods and preparing meals has been fairly straightforward.  Riding performance seems on track, too.

But, some concessions have had to be made, and there have been some surprises and disappointments as I’ve read more labels… Here’s how it’s going so far:

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CONCESSION #1: Bread.  It seems you can’t make bread without sugar.  Those little yeast need sugar to make them gassy so the bread will rise.  I looked through every loaf of bread in the grocery store and every single one had sugar added.  It came in various forms, some only using honey and/or molasses, but most used plain old sugar.  Now, it’s worth noting that it’s very little…on average about 3 grams per slice. But, have a normal sandwich and you’re up to 6 – 8 grams for two slices. (that’s 1.5 to 2 teaspoons of sugar).  And your sandwich only gets worse from there…

But, before I dive into that, I had to look up “cultured dextrose and maltodextrin.”  I was thinking it was some sly way of disguising high-fructose corn syrup, but it’s not.  Here’s a description from a manufacturer’s brand:

Cultured dextrose from Danisco USA, MicroGARDâ„¢ 730, helps control the outgrowth of pathogens and spoilage organisms in refrigerated meals. It can replace chemical preservatives like sorbates and benzoates for a clean label, and is particularly effective against Lactobacilli, yeast, molds, Listeria monocytogenes and heat-resistant spore formers.

Phheww! That’s a relief.

The good news on the bread aisle is that if you’re trying to avoid HFCS, there are plenty of options.

So, how does it get worse?  That depends on what you put between the slices.  A lot of Turkey and Ham lunch meats have sugar added in some form, especially the ‘honey baked’, ‘smoked’ or ‘browned’ varieties. Using Hillshire Farms (Go Meat!) as an example, their Deli Select Variety Pack lists 2g sugar per serving coming from a mix of dextrose, honey and corn syrup. We asked the deli clerk to check a few labels on the non-packaged lunch meats and ended up with Roast Beef…no sugar added.

Spicy mustard, which is my preference, has no sugar, but honey mustard does. It’s a relatively small amount, around 1-2 grams per TSP serving, but A) more than likely it’s from HFCS unless you’re buying a gourmet or organic brand, and B) seriously, who uses just 1 Teaspoon of mustard?  It takes at least a Tablespoon to spread across a slice of bread, which would put the total sugar up to about 3-6g (There are 3 TSP per TBSP).

If you’re going with a PBJ, you can get something like Polaner All-Fruit, which doesn’t add sugar per se, but does use  grape / pear juice concentrate, which is essentially sugar.  It, along with a couple other traditional and organic jellies I checked, has about 7 – 8 grams of sugar per serving (serving size = 1 TBSP).  This translates to about 2 Teaspoons of sugar.  If you’re using “normal” peanut butter (Skippy, Peter Pan, Jif, etc), you’re getting about 3g per 2 TBSP serving, and if you’re like me, you’re probably using double the recommended serving size for both Peanut Butter and Jelly.

As you can see, all this adds up.  For a Turkey sandwich with honey-mustard, you could get as much as 16g of sugar, or about 4 Teaspoons. PBJ sandwiches, using double the serving size, would give you up to 30g of sugar.  That’s almost 8 Teaspoons. Think about that, would you dump 4 to 8  Teaspoons of sugar on your sandwich otherwise?

CONCESSION #2: Ketchup.  We don’t consume a lot of ketchup, my kids eat more than I do, but only a couple TBSP per meal, and only in one or two meals per week to dip their chicken or Chik Patties in.  We’re not a fast food family.  But let’s face it, if I’m going to have a burger and fries at Five Guys, you better believe I’m gonna have some ketchup with it.  And, presumably, it’s going to be the Heinz that comes in bulk to them from Sysco Foods, which means it’s going to have HFCS.

Heinz Ketchup (like most brands) has about 4g sugar per TBSP serving.  Tomatoes have some naturally occurring sugar, but their Reduced Sugar variety uses Sucralose in lieu of added sugar and has 1g, so it’s safe to assume that 3g of sugar is coming from HFCS and Corn Syrup (or Sugar in their Organic variety).

Let’s be honest: I probably have about 2 TBSP worth just on the burger and use about 1/3 cup (5-6 TBSP) of ketchup with my fries. Five Guys’ nutritional facts say the burgers have 2g of sugar from the tomato I get on it, too.   Boom: 24g of added sugar (excluding whatever’s in the bun) and a little over 30g (almost 8 TSP) total sugar for the meal.  And that’s without any soda.

To a lesser extent this includes BBQ sauce, but I usually make my own.  I used to use Ketchup for the base, but next time I’ll be buying some tomato paste and using honey to sweeten it a little.

That said, there are no-sugar-added ketchups available, including Heinz’s, but they’re replacing it with artificial sweeteners.  There’s bound to be a ketchup made with Stevia, but a Google search proved fruitless except for plenty of recipes to make your own.  A future trip to Whole Foods / Earth Fare is in store because both of their websites suck for finding products they carry.

So, there are basically two “staples” you’re not likely to get around if you’re going with a similar diet: Bread and Ketchup, especially when you’re eating out.


SURPRISE / DISAPPOINTMENT #1: Worcestershire sauce.  So much for marinating my steaks in this, common brands have molasses and HFCS.

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SURPRISE / DISAPPOINTMENT #2: Most spaghetti sauces have added sugar (disappointment), but many from Classico do not (surprise!) and all three organic varieties from Harris Teeter have no added sugar.

SURPRISE / DISAPPOINTMENT #3: Papa Johns’ and Dominos’ pizza sauces have added sugar (disappointment).  Pizza Hut’s regular pizza sauce does not (surprise!).  Like bread, though, their dough does have a bit of sugar added to get the yeast to do their job, which is a concession I’m willing to make, because even if I made it at home I’d have to add sugar to the dough for it to rise.  That said, Pizza Hut’s thin crust does NOT have added sugar, whereas Dominos’ and Papa Johns’ thin crusts do. Strictly speaking of sugar, Pizza Hut is the clear winner. (Still waiting to hear back from Papa Johns, their ingredients are generally not available online like the others)


SURPRISE / DISAPPOINTMENT #4: Cereal.  Above and to the right are the only three cereals I could find at Harris Teeter that had no added sugar.

Post’s Grape Nuts and Shredded Wheat ‘Wheat ‘n Bran cereals also have no added sweeteners, whereas FiberOne adds aspartame.

Dismissing the obvious sugar-laden kids cereals, I was surprised and disappointed to find that many of the healthy looking cereals still had quite a bit of added sugar in them.  Milk has naturally occurring sugar (lactose, which is comprised of one molecule each glucose and galactose), about 11g per cup.

Soymilk has about 1g per cup, if you get unsweetened.  Silk’s Organic “original” has an additional 5g of added sugar for a total of 6g.  Their Vanilla, which is delicious and great in smoothies, has 6g added sugar per cup (7g total).

I’ve been having the Grape Nuts with a banana sliced up on it, which adds about 20g of naturally occurring sugar (but sugar none-the-less) and it’s pretty darn good.  I could probably get away half or no banana, but my line of thinking is that a reasonable amount of fruit is OK despite the sugar, plus it has lots of potassium.  (That theory, BTW, will be a topic for another post this month)

SURPRISE / DISAPPOINTMENT #5: Corn Salsa at Qdoba.  I had some BOGO coupons, so we went for lunch.  The corn salsa is a bit sweet, but the girl working there said it’s made only with corn, peppers, cilantro and other diced things that grow in the ground…no added sugar.  Yay!  Chipotlefan.com lists Chipotle’s Roasted Chili Corn Salsa as having no added sugar, too.  Double Yay!


Overall, I’m feeling good.  I still crave a Coke once in a while, particularly with Mexican food, but by and large my energy levels throughout the day are good despite inadequate sleep.  I’ve felt good on the bike and working out, and I haven’t had any stomach (ie. gas) discomfort using Hammer Nutrition’s recovery drinks.

I’ve used a variety of recovery drinks in the past from Endurox, Gatorade, PowerBar, Clif and others (including Hammer) and it seems like a little more than half the time I have some tummy issues shortly afterward, presumably there are yeast living in my gut converting that sugar into gas, much to Sweetie’s chagrin and Bikerumor Jr.’s amusement.  So far so good with the non-sugar-added Recoverite.

Sweetie, who has been a good sport about this despite a few lapses (some intentional, some accidental), says she’s not craving sweets at night anymore.


The sugar content and ingredients for these items are all available on manufacturer’s websites, just search for them.  The notable exception to this is Papa Johns…they have nutrition facts panels available if you look hard enough, but don’t list their ingredients like the others.

The FDA has a list of nutrition facts for raw fruits you can download here (PDF), and you can search for most anything else on their site.

Full Disclosure: Hammer Nutrition provided a variety of their products free of charge for use during this no-sugar-added experiment.

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14 years ago

I am not sure I understand the reasoning behind cutting out added sugar, but then eating refined carbohydrates (bread and cereal). In my opinion, if one is going to remove “added” or unnatural sugar from a diet, this should go hand in hand with processed grains (which lead to many of the health problems of modern man). For interesting reading on this, check out the Paleo Diet (book) or Mark’s Daily Apple (blog).

I’m no paleo crazy, but the no added sugar, but refined grains seems counter productive.

14 years ago

ALWAYS read food labels. We didn’t start until we found out our oldest child is allergic to everything a few years back. Old rule of thumb is, if it contains something you can’t pronounce, don’t eat it. I don’t know if I’d go that far but since we started analyzing food labels, we have radically have changed our diets. If you have some time, research the composition and origin of most popular food colorings used today. Pretty scary stuff out there.

14 years ago

Fructose is linked with many deseases. The commonly used sugars consist of 50% fructose, and this stuff is ubiquitous. You have a real hard time to find food without it.

Fructose is toxic.


Or google “John Yudkin sugar”, that man wrote in the 1960s how dangerous this stuff is.

Processed grains are probably the next step for the author 😉

14 years ago

As for bread (and the rest for that matter) I think you need to make more of it yourself and move away from store bought/processed food. A loaf of home made bread would only need a few teaspoons of sugar for the whole loaf. Also, oat meal has no sugar and you can make your own pasta sauce (and for pizza) with no added sugar as well.

14 years ago

Chef Hymie Grande (www.chefhymiegrande.com ) is the first and only bottled BBQ sauce to carry the seal of the American Diabetes Association on the label. It has no high fructose corn syrup, no processed sugar, it is all natural and vegan friendly. It is produced at the Rutgers Food Innovation Center in Bridgton, NJ by Jamie Failtelson, a.k.a. Chef Hymie Grande of Carlstadt, NJ. 5% of proceeds go to the American Diabetes Association.

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