How to Spot Sugar on Food Labels

If you’re trying to limit the amount of sugar you eat, then you need to learn the other names for sugar on food labels. Sugar comes in so many forms and goes by so many names that looking for sugar on a label can feel like finding a needle in a haystack! Fortunately, with a little bit of knowledge you’ll quickly become an expert at recognizing sugar on food labels and avoid having your health and weight loss efforts sabotaged.

Sugar Consumption Stats


  • The average American consumes at least 64 pounds of sugar per year, and the average teenage boy at least 109 pounds.
  • Per capita consumption of added sugars has risen by 28 percent since 1983.
  • Americans consume 22 teaspoons of added sugars a day, teens 34 teaspoons.

Why Worry About Sugar?


Sugar is often a hidden ingredient in processed foods. Among other things, it enhances flavor, promotes browning and aids in preservation; however, the high sugar content in foods comes with a trade off. Excessive sugar intake can lead to type 2 diabetes, contribute to metabolic syndrome and lead to excessive weight gain. The empty calories in sugar don’t provide any nutritional benefit to the body, which is why it is important to know other names for sugar on food labels.

As noted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), people who consume diets high in added sugars consume lower levels of fiber, vitamins and minerals, and other nutrients, and by displacing these protective nutrients, added sugars may increase the risk of osteoporosis, certain cancers, high blood pressure and other health problems.

The ‘Added Sugar’ Loop Hole and Deceptive Product Labelling


Although the FDA (and the USDA) has certainly acknowledged and tried to define the term “added sugars,” or those sugars that aren’t naturally occurring in foods (for example, fruits), the government is leaving it up to us to be food detectives and learn all the various names for sugar and, more importantly, how much of it we’re actually putting in our mouths.
Sugar masquerades under a variety of guises and trying to figure out what percentage of calories these sugars represent in a packaged food product is close to impossible.

That’s because the FDA has refused to add an “Added Sugars” line (in grams) within the “Sugars” section on the nutrition facts label. Instead, added sugars are only mentioned in the ingredient list — and only indecreasing weight order, not by percentage of calories.
Realizing this loophole, some food companies seem to be taking some extreme liberties. Not only are they using some of those tricky sugar synonyms in the ingredient list, but they’re also using several of them, in a single product. Added sugars are added sugars. No matter what you call them, they do pretty much the same thing to food (make it taste sweeter). So by dividing the total amount of added sugars into three or four different sugar names instead of using just one type of sugar, companies are able drop their added sugars further down the list (the less the weight, the lower the rank on the ingredient list).
So for example, if a manufacturer wants to sweeten up a certain brand of crackers, it can either do this using 15 grams of “sugar” or, 5 grams of “malt syrup,” 5 grams of “invert sugar” and 5 grams of “glucose”. Some manufacturers seem to be choosing this divide and masquerade method, placing these ingredients lower down on their products’ lists, making us believe that the amount of sugar in the product is smaller than it is. Bingo!

Four examples of foods that have divided their total added sugar content between several confusing synonyms (note where these names are positioned on the ingredient list).


1. Chocolate Chip Bars 
Granola (whole grain oats, brown sugar, crisp rice (rice flour, sugar, salt, malted barley extract), whole grain rolled wheat, soybean oil, dried coconut, whole wheat flour, sodium bicarbonate, soy lecithin, caramel color, nonfat dry milk), corn syrup, semisweet chocolate chips, brown rice crisp, sunflower oil, oligofructose, polydextrose, corn syrup solids, glycerin. Contains 2 percent or less of water, invert sugar, salt, molasses, sucralose, natural and artificial flavor, BHT, citric acid
2. Nutrition Bars
Soy protein nuggets, Yogurt coating (sugar, palm kernel oil, nonfat fry milk solids, Yogurt powder, soy lecithin, salt), corn syrup, milk protein isolate, fructose, almonds, palm oil, water
3. Wheat Thins
Whole grain wheat flour, unbleached enriched flour, soybean oil, sugar, cornstarch, malt syrup, salt, invert sugar, monoglycerides, leavening, vegetable color
4. Club Crackers
Enriched flour, soybean oil with TBHQ for freshness, sugar, contains two percent of less of: salt, leavening, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, cornstarch, soy lecithin

Other Names for Sugar on Food Labels


There are many different names for sugar. Two really good ways to disguise sugar on food labels is to use a long, scientific sounding word or to rename the sugar altogether.
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