Summer is officially upon us, and with it comes all of those great cookouts. Who doesn't love grilled dishes and music blasting while letting loose with your friends and family? If you're staying on your healthy lifestyle game this season, your attention may be focused on avoiding fatty meats and lots of carbs from bread and sides. But did you know there is another hidden culprit of weight gain at cookouts? Sugar!

Your body needs only 25 grams of added sugar a day—that's equivalent to roughly six teaspoons. That's it! Your daily sugar count does not include sugars that occur naturally in foods like fruits or grains. Unfortunately, the added sweet stuff can curtail your weight loss goals since unused sugar is stored as fat.

Now, we hate to be the bearers of bad news, but what if we told you that you could surpass your total daily recommended amount of sugar before you even finish your first plate? Sugar is hiding in some of our cookout faves and you may not even know it. The sugar sorcery is real. Below, we explain how to keep sugar low and your weight goals met during this season's barbecues.


Let's start with an old favorite. There's nothing like a chilled can of soda on a hot summer day. But that one can of regular soda may contain up to 10 teaspoons of sugar! That exceeds your daily allowance by 4 teaspoons. Instead, sip on infused water with fruit for a refreshing drink with no added sugar. Try adding oranges, lemons, strawberries or blueberries.

Don't be afraid to try veggies or herbs either. Consider throwing in cucumber, mint or rosemary. The longer you infuse ingredients, the more potent the flavor will be. Try preparing your infused water a night or two before your cookout and make sure to store it in the refrigerator.


Need a little something extra on that hamburger or hot dog? Ketchup is usually the first thing we reach for, right? Unfortunately, one serving of ketchup contains about 1 teaspoon of sugar. And who uses just that tiny (1 teaspoon) amount of ketchup? Another hamburger or adding some to your potatoes just increases your sugar intake. This much sugar in just a condiment just doesn't seem worth it.

Try using mustard instead. It has tons of flavor without all that added sugar. Also, try adding seasoned and grilled tomatoes and onions to your burger for moisture and taste!

Side Dishes

Imagine some delicious baked beans with your meal, all smoky and sweet. The problem is that many baked bean recipes usually call for quite a bit of sugar. One serving, about ½ a cup, may contain up to 3 teaspoons of sugar—half of your daily sugar allotment. Make sure not to go for seconds on this side dish.

Why not try some savory black-eyed peas? This yummy dish should still hit the spot. Make them smoky by adding smoked turkey and tons of spice. You get all the nutrients with beans without all that added sugar.


Now on to the main attraction. When the grilled ribs and chicken are done, it's time to slather on that delicious barbecue sauce. Yum! But one serving of barbecue sauce, which is just 1 tablespoon, contains 1.5. teaspoons of sugar. Yikes! That's ¼ of your total sugar allotment for the whole day. Consider making your own barbecue sauce instead. It's a great option since you can control what ingredients go into your sauce and more specifically, how much sugar it contains.

Try using ingredients other than sugar to enhance the flavor of your sauce. Honey is a good option, but watch the amount as your body still recognizes honey as sugar. Apple cider vinegar gives a tangy flavor for those who love that flavor profile. Or add hot peppers to give your sauce that extra zip. Hot peppers contain capsaicin, an ingredient that burns fat as you eat it. Winning!

Above all, we want to stress that we are not preaching total abstinence from sugar—that can be a nearly impossible task for almost anyone. We are, however, advocating that you be empowered by knowing what is in the food that you are eating. With that knowledge in hand, you can make much better choices over time.

Check out one of our favorite recipes below.


  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 large sweet yellow onion, diced finely
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic
  • ½ cup of tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Red chili flakes (optional, amount to taste)
  • ½ cup of water
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 4 tablespoons raw honey or maple syrup

Heat oil in a pan. Add onion and cook on low for 5 minutes until softened. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add tomato paste and cook for 5 minutes on medium heat, stirring often. Add spices, cook an additional 5 minutes on medium heat, stirring often. Add the remainder of the ingredients to the pan, bring to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer for 1 hour. If sauce is too thick, add additional water to suit your desired consistency. Use as is or blend for a smoother consistency.

Dr. Gameli Dekayie-Amenu & Dr. Chantale Stephens-Archer are the co-founders of BestiesMD. As both best friends and physicians, they are committed to providing reliable women's health education on a relatable and sisterly level.