Pop quiz: Which McDonald’s breakfast item has more sugar—Fruit and Maple Oatmeal or Sausage, Egg, and Cheese McGriddle?
If you guessed the McGriddle, which includes—in lieu of a regular bun—two hotcakes doused in syrup, try again. It’s easy to believe that choosing seemingly “lighter” options from a menu, like oatmeal, for instance, is the better way to go. The thing is, even foods that appear healthier might be full of sugar. The FDA recommends limiting daily sugar intake to 50 grams, or about 12 teaspoons. That might sound like a lot, but a single blended coffee drink or gourmet salad could be all it takes to put you over the limit.
Take these five menu items from popular chain restaurants, for example—each is easy to mistake for a healthier option, but all are super high in sugar.
Fruit and Maple Oatmeal at McDonald’s
Total sugar: 32 grams
Rolling into the drive-thru for a quick breakfast before work, you might think as long as you avoid loaded, greasy sandwiches, you’re good. But ordering up Mickey D’s oatmeal might be the worst choice of all. Sure, it’s made with some wholesome ingredients like whole grain oats, apples, and cranberries, but it also has the highest sugar content of any item on the breakfast menu: 32 grams. (For comparison, a Snickers bar has 27 grams.) That’s more than twice the sugar of the hotcakes (14 grams) or the aforementioned Sausage, Egg, and Cheese McGriddle (15 grams).
Coffee Frappuccino at Starbucks
Total sugar: 50 grams
We know in our hearts that Starbucks’ sweet blended drinks are sinful—Caramel and Java Chip Frappuccinos are off limits, for sure. But could the most basic, the Coffee Frap (minus the whipped cream), be so bad? Yep. For a Grande (medium) size, you’re looking at 50 grams of sugar—51 if you opt for nonfat milk. And if you decide to upgrade to a Venti (large), that’s 70 grams. Yikes!
Sweet Potato Fries and Dip at Applebee’s
Total sugar: 51 grams
Sweet potato fries seem like a no-brainer when eating out—they provide a few of your daily vegetable servings, and they’re rich in fiber and off the charts in antioxidant vitamins A and C. So it might seem OK to let it slide that they’re fried in a mystery oil. This is a slippery slope. At Applebee’s, as soon as those fries take a dip in your choice of Sriracha chile–lime, barbecue bacon ranch, or maple-flavored cream cheese sauce, it’s all over. The appetizer—dip included—has 51 grams of sugar.
Island Pitaya Smoothie Bowl at Jamba Juice
Total sugar: 70 grams
We eat with our eyes first, and that’s why smoothie bowls have skyrocketed to fame in our Instagram feeds and our diets. The more exotic, the more enticing. Boasting a laundry list of crave-worthy ingredients—pineapple, banana, pitaya (aka dragon fruit), strawberries, mangoes, blueberries, coconut, granola, honey, and chia seeds—Jamba Juice’s Island Pitaya Bowl has it all, including 70 grams of sugar. (That’s almost as much as three Snicker’s bars!) Granted, there’s a good amount of fiber inside (11 grams), which means it breaks down more slowly than something like a candy bar, so you don’t get the sugar crash or inflammation.
Moroccan-Spiced Chicken Salad at California Pizza Kitchen
Total sugar: 80 grams
A medley of butternut squash, medjool dates, avocado, toasted almonds, beets, red peppers, egg, cranberries, and topped with Champagne vinaigrette, this CPK specialty has a whopping 80 grams of sugar. Kinda defeats the purpose of eating a salad in the first place, right?
We’re all guilty of turning a blind eye to sugar every now and then but it really can sneak up on you—even when you think you’re making the healthiest choices. Avoid the temptation and try to keep your visits to restaurant chains to a minimum. Besides, according to science, healthy food tastes better when you make it at home.
Photo credit: Alicia Cho