Detecting Added Sugar In Food Products

To know exactly what’s in our food we must become food label sleuths - detecting the nutrient facts behind the label terminology used.

The quantity of added sugar in packaged products, for instance, is indicated on each item’s nutrition label—but is not plainly stated. Consequently, many of us are consuming more sugar than we realize.

The abundance of added sugar in our food supply is concerning as it’s increasingly associated with the onset of metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. However, since many foods naturally contain sugar (e.g., fruits, veggies, grains, milk) it makes no sense to vilify sugar, but prudent to limit our consumption of it.

Sugar Labeling Basics

The term “added sugar” does not refer to naturally occurring sugars, but to the sugar food manufacturers add to their products. These added sugars are declared, as are all product components, on the “ingredient list” section of our food labels. Because the ingredients are put in descending order by weight (most weight to least), products high in added sugar typically have a sugar named among its first few ingredients.

A food item’s total grams of sugar are stated in the Nutrition Facts part of the label; this number includes both natural and added sugars.

Sugar Clues and Aliases

Though added sugars are not plainly stated on food labels, they are easy to spot by following the clue “ose.” The chemical names of many sugars end in these three letters including glucose, fructose, sucrose, lactose, maltose, and dextrose.

Sugar is also listed on labels using various aliases—some familiar, some less so. Recognizing these pseudonyms makes sniffing-out added sugar, well, elementary. Common aliases include:

  • high fructose corn syrup, corn sweetener, corn syrup, corn syrup solids
  • cane juice, evaporated cane juice, cane syrup, cane crystals
  • fruit juice concentrate, nectars
  • honey, molasses, sorghum
  • malt syrup, maple syrup, malted barley, malts, raisin syrup, rice malt, isomalt

Less common sugar aliases are: carbitol, diglycerides, disaccharides, erythritol, fructooligosaccharides, galactose, glucitol, glucosamine, hexitol, inversol, mannitol, sorbitol, sucanat, sucanet, xylitol, and zylose.

How Much Is Too Much?

The American Heart Association recommends women consume no more than six, and men no more than nine teaspoons of sugar per day. To place this in perspective, one can of regular soda contains about about 10 teaspoons of sugar.

The new 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans is a bit more generous, suggesting no more than 10 percent of our daily calories come from added sugars, or about 12.5 teaspoons on a 2,000 calorie diet.

However, those with diabetes may need to restrict their sugar intake even more than these guidelines suggest. Knowing how to detect added sugars in foods won’t make this task any sweeter, but at least a bit easier.

Sources: Mayo Clinic; Healthy Eating
Photo credit: dynamosquito

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