Avoiding Hidden Sugars for the Holidays

Thanksgiving is quickly approaching (3 days away!) and holiday parties are about to be in full swing. With all the obvious indulgences around (pecan pie, pumpkin pie, apple pie, cinnamon ice cream, gingerbread cookies, eggnog…) it’s more important now than ever to watch what you eat when you’re not at a family dinner or boozy office party.

You may have heard the phrase ‘avoid hidden sugars’ if you want to lose weight and be healthy, and alas, the holiday season is probably the best time to start implementing this rule. But what exactly does that mean? What is a hidden sugar?


‘Hidden sugar’ refers to sugars that have been added to foods or food products, usually where you may not expect to find them, and often they are written on the label with inconspicuous names (like brown rice syrup, galactose, or diastatic malt). Some products can even be labeled ‘no added sugars’ as long as the added sugar is ‘necessary’ for performing another role such as thickening, texturizing, or browning.

Other types of ‘hidden sugars’ are actually not as hidden as you think, and they’re more obvious than not. Take smoothies for example–when ordering a smoothie packed with yummy fruits (and hopefully spinach or kale!), ask for no dates, agave, coconut sugar or any other ‘natural’ sweetener. There is no reason to add even more sugar to something that is already sweet. Even green juices can seem perfectly harmless, but often times there is much more fruit than veggie, and because it is juiced, the concentration is much greater than what you would probably eat in one sitting.

Once you know how to find hidden sugars, it can seem like they are practically everywhere. Don’t beat yourself up if you have trouble trying to cut them out of your diet. Nutrition isn’t just about one meal; it’s more about what you eat on average on a daily basis, so a good place to start is by cutting down on sugar in your snacks and desserts. Save your sweet tooth for special occasions and instead munch on low-sugar or naturally sugar-free snacks to keep your overall sugar intake at a minimum in between any holiday celebrations.
To help you navigate the grocery store, restaurants, and parties, here is a list of common foods with added, hidden sugars as well as names to look out for when reading nutrition labels. The following lists are not meant to be exclusive, so it is important that you be on the lookout for hidden sugars, and most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask questions about the food you are eating!

Common names of hidden sugars:







Almost any ‘-ose’

Brown Rice syrup

High fructose corn syrup


Evaporated cane juice

Fruit juice concentrate

Malt syrup

Corn syrup



Diastatic Malt

Evaporated Cane juice


Maple Syrup

Simple Syrup


Common sources of hidden sugars:

Condiments like ketchup, BBQ sauce, etc

Pasta sauce

Sushi rice

Salad dressings

Snack bars (cereal, protein, chia, granola bars)


Frozen meals

Dried fruit

Fruit juice

Canned fruits

Cough drops



Red & White wine



Canned soup


Sports drinks


Flavored espresso/coffee drinks

Flavored milks

Iced tea

“Instant” foods like instant oatmeal

Alcoholic beverages, especially store bought mixers

Green juices

‘Natural’ sodas, desserts, pastries

Energy drinks

Sports drinks