Who's the scariest supervillain of all time? Darth Vader? The Joker? Bruce Jenner's plastic surgeon? All pretty nasty, it's true. But let me nominate an evil force with greater powers. A villain who can be both solid and liquid, who can be as fine as dust or as hard as rock, and who lives inside of almost everything you eat. I'm talking, of course, about sugar.

I've yet to meet a person who doesn't occasionally crave something sweet -- ice cream, cookies, candy. We think to ourselves: "One brownie won't kill us. It's harmless." And that's true -- one brownie is harmless. But it accounts for only a fraction of the sugar you'll eat in a day.

According to the American Heart Association, Americans down about 22 teaspoons of the sweet stuff every day. (Imagine choking that down all at one time.) And most of that comes from less-than-obvious sources. Manufacturers today put sugar in everything from the bread in your pantry to the turkey on your table. That makes sweet ol' sugar the ultimate supervillain -- or at the very least a driving force behind heart disease and diabetes.

So let's put this into perspective. If you're currently taking in more than 120,000 sugar calories each year—as is the average American—then you're adding 35 pounds of sugar-induced flab to your body annually. But here's the good news: Every dark thriller has a path to salvation. To help you find the way, I've identified the most nefarious sources of sugar currently crouching in the dark shadows of your diet. Start dodging these villains today and you'll earn a body worthy of a sequel. And for easy swaps that will help you lose 10, 20, 30 pounds or more, check out the all-new, updated Eat This, Not That! 2013.

9 Sneaky Sugar Sources Slideshow

 

9. Asian Sauces

Asian sauces -- or at least American versions of Asian sauces -- are notorious sources of hidden sugars. The viscous liquids that give us sesame chicken, sweet and sour pork, and beef teriyaki aren't all that dissimilar from pancake syrup. Check the nutrition label for ingredients like corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup, and watch out for anything that ends in "-ose" (dextrose, maltose). These are all forms of sugar. Then be prepared to do some math -- most bottled sauces list nutrition information for impractically small serving sizes. Who uses only 1 tablespoon of sauce? For delicious, and healthy Asian cuisine you can make at home, follow this Guy Gourmet Recipe for Stir Fry Beef and Veggies. Eat This! La Choy Stir-Fry Teriyaki Sauce & Marinade (1 Tbsp) 10 calories, 0 g fat, 1 g sugars Not That! La Choy Teriyaki Marinade & Sauce (1 Tbsp) 40 calories, 0 g fat, 8 g sugars

 

8. Fruit Spreads

Jams, jellies, and preserves seem like healthy breakfast alternatives to butter and cream cheese -- and they are if they contain only fruit. But many fruity toppings house a shocking amount of added sugar. Smucker's, for instance, packs three different sweeteners into its classic Strawberry jam. Why three? Because if the company used only one, it would have to list "sugar" as the first item on the ingredient statement. By spreading the impact over three sweeteners, it can push fruit to the top of the ingredient list and hide the sweeteners below. It's a common trick used by food processors to make their products look healthier than they are. Just remember that fruit is its own natural sweetener. Opt for an unadulterated version like Polaner's All Fruit spreads, which -- true to name -- contain nothing more than fruit and fruit juice. Eat This! Polaner All Fruit with Fiber, Strawberry (1 Tbsp) 35 calories, 0 g fat, 6 g sugars Not That! Smucker’s Strawberry Jam (1 Tbsp) 50 calories, 0 g fat, 12 g sugars (Fruit isn’t the only convenient snack that will strengthen your sperm. Try these other 12 Super Sex Foods.)

 

7. Salad Dressing

You've likely heard that fat-heavy dressings like ranch and blue cheese can convert a salad from fresh to fattening, but you may not be aware of the other salad saboteur lurking in your pantry. When the so-called "light" dressings take out fat, they often add sugar in its place. Take Ken's Sun-Dried Tomato Vinaigrette, pictured here. It contains as much sugar in each serving as some ice creams do in each scoop. And what's worse, it's laced with food starch. Although technically not sugar, it reacts in your body in almost exactly the same way. That means that in addition to the 12 grams of sugar on the label, you're also taking in a heavy dose of blood-sugar-spiking starch. Let's call this dressing what it really is: Salad frosting. Eat This! Kraft Roasted Red Pepper Italian with Parmesan (2 Tbsp) 40 calories, 2 g fat (0 g saturated), 3 g sugars Not That! Ken's Steak House Fat Free Sun-Dried Tomato Vinaigrette (2 Tbsp) 70 calories, 0 g fat, 12 g sugars For more smart power food suggestions, stock up on these 125 Best Foods for Men.

 

6. Spaghetti Sauce

There's no need to add sugar to tomato sauce because tomatoes are naturally sweet. So why do processors insist? Because instead of using fresh olive oil and vegetables, they're often making their sauces from cheaper vegetable oils, dehydrated veggies, and other subpar ingredients. Sugar is a quick fix: It makes everything taste like candy! To that point, Francesco Rinaldi lists sugar as the second ingredient in this sauce, which brings the total impact to nearly 3 teaspoons of sugar in each serving. Your best bet? Go with a no-sugar-added option like Ragu's Tomato Basil. It contains just tomatoes, onions and spices. And be sure to also look out for the sugar count of barbecue sauces—another tomato-based sauce notorious for sneaky sweeteners. Eat This! Ragu Light No Sugar Added Tomato Basil (1/2 cup) 50 calories, 0 g fat, 8 g sugars Not That! Francesco Rinaldi Traditional Pasta Sauce, Original (1/2 cup) 80 Calories, 3 g fat (0 g saturated) 11 g sugars Want must-have nutrition info, food swaps, and breaking health findings delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for the Eat This, Not That! newsletter.

 

5. Oatmeal

Oats have been linked to heart health, weight loss, and cancer prevention, so it's natural to assume that oatmeal is always a nutritious breakfast choice. But many food producers spoil the whole-grain goodness by flavoring their oats with artificial ingredients and loads of sugar. Quaker's Cinnamon Roll Oatmeal Express, for example, takes its name very seriously -- it contains as much sugar as two Pillsbury cinnamon rolls! A touch of sugar is one thing, but unless you want to eat dessert for breakfast, go with a lower-sugar option. Or better yet, make your oatmeal from scratch so you can control the sugar load. (Tip: Berries are the perfect way to sweeten naturally.) Eat This! Quaker Lower Sugar Instant Oatmeal Maple & Brown Sugar 120 calories, 2 g fat (0 g saturated), 4 g sugars Not That! Quaker Oatmeal Express Cinnamon Roll 200 calories, 2.5 g fat (0.5 g saturated), 17 g sugars What foods should you avoid? Start with these 25 New “Healthy” Foods That Aren't.

 

4. Wheat Bread

Studies have shown that whole grains improve your heart health, keep you full, and help you lose weight, but not all bread products labeled "wheat" are true whole grains. Restaurants and supermarket aisles are rife with whole-wheat imposters containing enriched flours and sugars intended to improve the taste of wheat products. So even though you don't typically file bread under the "sweets" category, your daily sandwich could be loaded with refined carbs and sugars. The best example of the whole-wheat bait-and-switch is the "Honey Wheat" bread Arby's uses on its Market Fresh sandwiches. First, it's not whole wheat (enriched flour is the first ingredient). And second, there are 15 grams (!) of sugar in every two slices. That's more sugar than you'll find in a Hostess Ho Ho! When it comes to dropping pounds, what you eat is only half the equation. Watch out for these 20 Habits That Make You Fat and watch the belly fat disappear! Eat This! Arby's Cravin' Chicken Sandwich (Roast) 370 calories, 12 g fat (2 g saturated) 9 g sugars Not That! Arby’s Market Fresh Roast Turkey and Swiss Sandwich 710 calories, 28 g fat (7 g saturated), 18 g sugars

 

3. Yogurt

Yogurt is low in calories and high in protein, which is why a recent Harvard study found that regularly consuming the stuff helps you lose weight. The problem? Many producers pump their "fruit flavored" yogurts with sugar. Case in point: The cups in Yoplait's Original 99% Fat Free line pack as much sugar as a bag of peanut M&M's. Unless yogurt is your weekly diet splurge, go with a less dessert-y option like Dannon Light & Fit, or opt for plain yogurt and add your own healthy toppings like fresh fruit and nuts. Eat This! Dannon Light & Fit Peach (6 oz, 1 container) 80 calories, 0 g fat, 11 g sugars Not That! Yoplait Original 99 Percent Fat Free, Harvest Peach (6 oz, 1 container) 170 calories, 1.5 g fat (1 g saturated), 26 g sugars

 

2. Frozen Dinners

The idea of a frozen meal packed in a nuke-able box probably doesn't get your taste buds giddy with anticipation. Food manufacturers are aware of this fact, so they go heavy on the sugar and/or salt. Some of the worst offenders? Low-cal or otherwise "light" entrées. When food companies remove fat or carbs from their items, they usually replace those calories with excessive doses of sugar or sodium. Take Lean Cuisine's Roasted Turkey Breast entrée, for example. Chances are you don't think of turkey as dessert, but with 7 teaspoons of sugar, that's exactly what you're getting if you pop one of these babies in the microwave. Again, it's all in the nutrition label. Don't just focus on fat and calories; make sure to look out for sneaky sugars and sodium as well. Eat This! Smart Ones Bistro Selections Slow Roasted Turkey Breast (1 entrée) 200 calories, 7 g fat (2 g saturated), Sugars <1 g Not That! Lean Cuisine Roasted Turkey Breast 290 calories, 4 g fat (1 g saturated), 27 g sugars Chicken is a lean, fat-fighting protein. But it's also the most abused food in American restaurants. Here's the evidence: The Worst Chicken Dishes in America.

 

1. Bottled Tea

In recent years, tea has received a lot of good press for its impressive antioxidant properties, and beverage companies have taken advantage by flooding the market with options. But the taste of plain herbal tea doesn't draw in the crowds, so many drink purveyors pump their teas with high-fructose corn syrup and other cheap sweeteners to boost flavor. Before you buy a bottle, flip it over and read the nutrition label. If you're looking at Arizona's Green Tea, you'll notice that it has more sugar than a Snickers bar. Drink This! Honest Tea Jasmine Green Energy Tea (16 oz. bottle) 34 calories, 0 g fat, 10 g sugars Not That! AriZona Green Tea with Ginseng & Honey (16 oz bottle) 140 calories, 0 g fat 34 g sugars Green tea isn't the only food that improves cognitive functioning. Fend off anxiety, depression, restlessness, and more with these 6 Foods That Boost Your Brainpower.

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