5 “Healthy” Restaurant Foods That Have More Sugar Than a Snickers
Plus, we have healthier recipes for all of them.
A classic Snickers bar has 27g of sugar (25g of which are added.) You already know it’s not exactly a healthy snack, but what you may not realize is that there’s just as much sugar lurking in some healthy-seeming foods might find at a restaurant or drive-thru.
Here, our nutritionist, Brierley Horton, MS, RD, weighs in on each of these food choices, and why exactly they’re so high in sugar (and whether or not it’s still worth occasionally ordering!) We’ve also included similar recipes that dial way back on the sweet stuff, without sacrificing flavor.
Jamba Juice Aloha Pineapple Smoothie
Order a small—yes, small—Aloha Pineapple Smoothie from Jamba Juice, and you’re looking at 67g of sugar. Their website says the smoothie is made with “pineapple juice, strawberries, pineapple sherbet (contains milk), ice, bananas, and Greek yogurt (contains milk).”
Here’s what Horton has to say: “67g is a big number, but before the panic sets in, know this—that is total sugar, not just added sugar. And fruit and milk both have natural sugars in them (here's everything you need to know about added vs natural sugars).
So while you want to be mindful of how much fruit juice you drink, a lot of that sugar is also coming from the strawberries, bananas, and milk in the yogurt and sherbet.” Horton adds that this smoothie (and others like it) are okay as an occasional treat, but you may want to ask for no sherbet—or sub Greek yogurt in for it—to dial back.
You’ll still get that tropical flavor you’re after, with way less sugar.
Get the Recipe: Banana-Pineapple-Kale Smoothie
Wendy’s Apple Pecan Chicken Salad
You may think this fast food salad is the best option at a drive-thru, but you should know it packs a whopping 40g of sugar. But where, exactly, is it all coming from?
Horton says, “Look at the ingredient list for this salad and you’ll see that some version of added sugar is listed six separate times. The salad dressing alone has three different types of sweetener. Then the pecans are candied and the cranberries are sweetened. Though the apples and cranberries deliver some natural sugar, the sugar in this salad is likely mostly added.”
Our salad still gives great crunch from the leafy greens and pumpkin seeds, while apples and crystallized ginger deliver welcome sweetness.
Get the Recipe: Kale and Apple Salad With Shredded Chicken
Cheesecake Factory’s Chinese Chicken Salad
This restaurant salad packs 61g of sugar, which is pretty scary at first glance—given that a typical packet of sugar contains 2-4g, that's like dumping 30 packets of sugar on your plate!
Though Cheesecake Factory doesn’t publish their full ingredient list for this recipe, Horton says most of that sugar is likely coming from the Mandarin oranges (which often come in syrup), or the Sesame-Plum dressing.
She says, “I'd personally rather ‘save’ my added sugar for a dessert, or something that actually tastes sweet, and just eat a savory salad.”
Asian-inspired flavors keep cravings in check, edamame and chicken add a protein boost, and the different veggies add great texture to this salad.
Get the Recipe: Crunchy Sesame-Ginger Chicken Salad
Red Lobster’s Coconut Shrimp
Order a Parrot Isle Jumbo Coconut Shrimp-Dinner Entree from Red Lobster, and dip it in the piña colada sauce it comes with, and you’re looking at nearly 40g of added sugar.
We couldn't find a list of ingredients for this, but if we had to guess, the shrimp are probably made with sweetened coconut flakes. Horton says, "If all of the sugar is added, it’s way too much added sugar for a savory entree, but even more worrisome is the sodium count: nearly 1,700 milligrams.” That's more than 70% of your recommended daily limit, in one meal!
Get that deep-fried texture you love, without any of the added fat or calories! Our version uses an air fryer and unsweetened coconut flakes to get the same flavor as the restaurant version.
Get the Recipe: Air-Fryer Coconut Shrimp
Dunkin’s Medium Mocha Latte
You may think the occasional mocha latte is harmless, but this one packs 51g of sugar—most of which is added—so it’s probably worth opting for an unsweetened latte or making your own version of this one at home. “Natural sugar from the milk and two types of added sugar in the mocha syrup—high fructose corn syrup and corn syrup—are what’s making this number look so high,” Horton says. She also adds that if you want to order this is an occasional treat, you could just ask for less syrup.
Peppermint and mocha are a dream combo, and elevate the coffee-chocolate flavor even more. Best part? You can make it any time you want.
Get the Recipe: Peppermint-Mocha Latte