Beware the Trojan horse of summer fare 

Snacks and more sneak in crazy amounts of sugar

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There's a crazy little snack beyond the tracks, and everybody calls it the sugar snack... With apologies to Jimmy Gilmore and the Fireballs who made the original Sugar Shack song a huge hit, summer gets me thinking about the crazy amounts of sugar we consume, especially this time of year.

Some of it is obvious sugar, like the cups of "white death" dumped into homemade lemonade or iced tea. But a bigger culprit is the hidden sugar that sneaks into our diet like a Trojan horse. And when you add it all up, I bet you five to one most of us have no idea how much sugar we're ingesting.

Here's a perfect example from a friend's barbecue this weekend. After a great round of burgers and a crunchy green coleslaw I made from fresh spring cabbage, we ended up serving ourselves frozen yogurt for dessert.

This stuff — a pecan caramel concoction from Superstore's President's Choice line — was good enough to keep us all scooping and scooping since the scoop was pretty small.

Yummy, yes. But suddenly it struck me we were a little deluded both by the size of the "little" scoop we were using and the yogurt factor. So I read the ingredient list on the label, the whole darned container having by then found its way into the middle of the table so we didn't have to keep running back to the freezer in the kitchen for seconds, or thirds.

Here's the scoop. President's Choice Caramel Pecan Crunch Frozen Yogurt delivers 15 grams of sugar for every half cup serving, and we all had had more than half a cup by that point.

Granted a fair chunk of that sugar would have come from the lactose in the "modified milk ingredients" that are the first ingredient on the list. Many veggies and virtually all fruits and dairy products contain varying amounts of naturally occurring sugars.

For instance, lactose makes up two to eight per cent of milk by weight, so even in a product like Natrel, where the lactose is filtered out for lactose intolerant people like me, you get eight grams of sugar in each cup. Still, I was a bit shocked I'd just eaten close to 20 grams of sugar in frozen yogurt — me, the queen of Olympic's delicious no-gelatin-added, organic, plain yogurt.

Our host laughed when I broadcast the 15 grams of sugar fact, which would be like eating between four and 7.5 of those little packets of sugar you get in restaurants and coffee joints. (No, they aren't manufactured equally — each contains between two and four grams of sugar, depending on the size.)

Look at what you're drinking! he said, referring to the bottle of another President's Choice product my husband and I had brought along, a lightly carbonated orange frizzante, made with mineral water and orange juice, something we've considered to be a relatively healthy drink for years. Twenty-nine grams of sugar in a one-cup serving — the equivalent of 7.25 to 14.5 of those little sugar packets!

No wonder sugar consumption in North America has shot up by about 50 per cent over the last 30 years to the point where, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, Canadians consume on average about 63 grams or 16 to 32 little packets of sugar every day.

All I can say is, thank God we were diluting it half and half with water. But still, between the two of us we downed the whole litre bottle, which meant that we'd each consumed nearly 60 grams of sugar with th at alone.

No one in their right mind would sit down and open 15, never mind nearly 30 packets into a half litre of water, stir it up and drink it, or dump that much sugar into a bowl, sit down and eat it with a spoon. But when you put these equivalents in terms of individual sugar packets, which we can easily picture, you soon get... well, the picture.

Now I have to 'fess up. Another source of hidden sugar that night was my crunchy summer coleslaw, which was dressed with olive oil, prosecco vinegar, fresh lemon juice and garlic, basil, celery seeds, mustard seeds, salt and — gulp — about two teaspoons of sugar.

Accuse me of assuaging my guilt but, really, that isn't too bad for a salad dressing. Grab some commercial bottles of salad dressing, and you'll be shocked at the amount of sugar.

There are exceptions, of course (Renee's Gourmet dressings, for one, are pretty reliable for not adding sugar). The point is to pick and choose wisely. Translation: read your labels, especially when it comes to Trojan horses like salad dressings that can slip in a wallop of sugar when it seems you're getting something healthy, like a garden-fresh salad. To whit, one serving of Kraft's Ranch classic dressing contains one gram of sugar, but their Honey Mustard dressing contains eight times that amount.

Yes, we need to balance our electrolytes during the heat of summer, especially for people who sweat profusely due to their activity levels or their genetics. The old wives' tale is we need the right ratio of salt and sugar dissolved in water. You can Google all kinds of recipes for homemade electrolyte-replacing drinks, but the common ratio is about five to 10 tablespoons of sugar to two quarts of water along with the requisite salts.

But really, you don't need the sugar to rebalance your system. It's just there for the taste. What you are after is the salts, which can be delivered through ordinary table salt and baking soda (one teaspoon of each) along with half a teaspoon of salt substitute (also called potassium salt) to two quarts of water. The sugar is added for flavour, along with the lemon or lime juice, or other flavouring.

Health agencies like the Heart and Stroke Foundation agree that sugar is a huge culprit in our obesity epidemic but right now there are no international or national standards for acceptable levels of sugar intake. However, the American Heart Association recommends six teaspoons (1.5 grams) a day of sugar for women, and nine teaspoons (2.25 grams) a day for men.

Sugar is hard enough to avoid anytime, but with all the ice cream and pop and lemonade floating about in summer it's harder. Even the whole-wheat hamburger buns I've got at home right now have sugar in them, so keep your eyes peeled on those labels.

As for that plain organic Olympic yogurt I love, it delivers seven grams of sugar — or about two or three little packets of sugar — with each serving. Sigh.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning freelance writer who tries to watch her sugar intake.

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