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Ketchup can be a hidden source of sugar in our diet. Hot sauce or tomatoes are healthier options, dietitians say. ((Larry Crowe/Associated Press))

Sugar, especially the hidden kind, is an easy source of unwanted extra calories, nutritionists say. 

Sugar is an ingredient in so many products, including some with healthy reputations, that most people may not realize how much they consume in a day.

Even fans of the Slurpee, the frozen drink whose sugar hit is expected, can be taken aback by the sugar content.

As she bought a small Slurpee recently, Winnipeg resident Tracy Man was surprised to learn an extra-large version of the drink contains up to 39 teaspoons of sugar. 

"I think I will enjoy it, even though I know about the sugar consumption," Man said. "I'll just have to watch my sugar intake for the rest of the day."

A teaspoon of sugar has 15 calories, meaning that big Slurpee comes with 585. 

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But even products that aren't as aggressively sweet — like fruit drinks, fruit leather, or yogurt with added fruit — can be flavoured with enough sugar to take a toll, says Phyllis Reid-Jarvis a registered dietitian in Winnipeg.

"The research shows us that on average, we're taking in over 300 extra calories a day," Reid-Jarvis said of hidden sugars. "That is very significant because when you add that up, in a week, that's over 2,100 calories."

Reid-Jarvis suggests that Canadians:

  • Eat fruit instead of nibbling fruit bars or drinking fruit juice.
  • Watch for fructose, glucose, corn syrup and malt on ingredient lists as an indication of sugar content.
  •  Consider using hot sauce or tomatoes instead of sugary condiments such as ketchup. A two tablespoon serving of ketchup contains two teaspoons sugar. 

People should watch for sugar disguised in foods like white rice, white flour and noodles, advised Suzanne Danner, a naturopathic doctor in Winnipeg.

"I kind of see those being close sisters to sugar," Danner said. "So when someone consumes simple carbohydrate food … meaning they raise blood sugars very quickly, the body steps in and releases insulin to help get the blood sugars down."

If that cycle happens too often, some people may develop insulin resistance, a risk factor for Type 2 diabetes, Danner said.

Type 2 diabetes doesn't develop overnight but having high amounts of sugar in the diet is a risk factor that Canadians can avoid by taking charge of their diet, Danner said.