Surprising Sources of Carbohydrates

Grilled meat on a cutting board covered in sauce
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Ever wake up in the morning and test your blood sugar to find that it is high and you have no idea why? You check it again and confirm that it is high, but can't seem to figure out why? Perhaps what you ate contained more carbohydrates than you thought. Recipe ingredients such as condiments, sauces, bread crumbs, and dressings may contain hidden sources of carbohydrates. In addition, certain beverages may contain natural carbohydrates or added sugars depending on how they are prepared. When cooking, shopping or ordering, aim to read labels (when they are available) to identify carbohydrate sources. Because a label may not be available, it is important to be carbohydrate savvy.

The following food types and foods may contain hidden sources of carbohydrates.

Fat-Free and Low-Fat Foods

Thinking about purchasing low-fat peanut butter or fat-free salad dressing? You might want to think again. Often, fat is replaced with sugar. Kristy Del Coro, culinary nutritionist says, "When you take out the fat, fillers, often in the form of sugar, are added in its place to achieve mouth feel and add flavor." Replacing fat, especially heart-healthy fat is probably not a good idea, not only for blood sugars but for heart health. In fact, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans states that reducing total fat (replacing total fat with overall carbohydrates) does not lower cardiovascular disease risk, whereas strong and consistent evidence shows that replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat reduces the risk of cardiovascular events and coronary mortality. Fat-free and certain low-fat food items (this does not include low-fat dairy) such as low-fat peanut butter, may contain more carbohydrates. Instead of purchasing the low-fat version, eat the full fat version and keep your portions controlled. Foods that contain heart healthy fat like nut butters and oil bases dressing are good for you in moderation; they can have favorable effects on cholesterol.


Many sauces and gravies contain flour or sugar for added flavor and texture. Make sure to always read the label. When possible, avoid packaged or canned sauces or gravies as these foods are historically rich in sodium which can increase blood pressure.


Condiments are used to add flavor to food. We dip, pour and smear condiments on sandwiches, bread, and other food items, but we often forget to factor them into our carbohydrate and calorie allotment. When used in moderation, condiments are fine. But if you don't pay careful attention to portion and serving size, the calories, sugar, and carbohydrates can add up quickly. Be sure to measure your condiments and label read for accurate carbohydrate counts.

Sugar Free or No Sugar Added Foods

Many people assume that sugar free and no sugar added food items will not affect their blood sugar. This isn't always the case. Sugar free and no sugar added food items can still contain carbohydrates, especially sweets that are made with milk or flour. Make sure to always read the labels.

Foods That Are Battered or Fried

Food items such as chicken nuggets, eggplant Parmesan, and chicken wings, to name a few are breaded or dipped in flour before cooking. Flour and breading is considered a starch and therefore contains added carbohydrates. 

Cheat Sheet for Hidden Carbohydrate Sources 

  • Barbecue sauce: ~ 9 g of carbohydrate in 2 tablespoons
  • Ketchup: ~ 4 g of carbohydrate in 1 tablespoon
  • Salsa: ~ 3 g of carbohydrate in 1 tablespoon
  • Tomato sauce: ~7 g carbohydrate in 1/2 cup 
  • Sugar free pudding snack: ~13 g carbohydrate 
  • Sugar free maple syrup: ~12 g carbohydrate in 1/4 cup 
  • Sugar free jelly: ~ 5 g carbohydrate in 1 tablespoon
  • Fat free salad dressing: ~ 7 g carbohydrate in 2 tablespoons 
  • Low-fat peanut butter: ~8 g carbohydrate in 1 Tablespoon 
  • Sugar free candy bar (chocolate): ~ 18 g carbohydrate depending on bar (look at the label to determine accurate carbohydrate count) 
  • No sugar added ice cream: ~13 g carbohydrate in 1/2 cup 
  • Low-fat latte: ~ 15 g carbohydrate in 12 oz
  • Vanilla soy milk: ~10 g carbohydrate in 1 cup 
  • Coconut water: ~ 9 g carbohydrate in 8 oz
  • Breaded chicken cutlet: ~10 g carbohydrate in 1 3oz piece 
  • Gravy: ~6 g of carbohydate in 1/2 cup serving
  • Fat free sour cream: ~ 18 g per 1/2 cup 
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Article Sources

  • Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.