Added sugar has taken the spotlight as the ingredient to avoid in the modern diet.

On average, Americans eat about 17 teaspoons of added sugar each day (1). Most of this is hidden within processed foods, so people don’t even realize they’re eating it.

All this sugar may be a key factor in several major illnesses, including heart disease and diabetes (23). Sugar goes by many different names, so it can be difficult to figure out how much of it a food actually contains.

This blog lists 56 different names for sugar.

First, let’s briefly explain what added sugars are and how the different types can affect your health.

What is added sugar?

During processing, sugar is added to food to enhance flavor, texture, shelf life, or other properties.

Added sugar is usually a mixture of simple sugars such as sucrose, glucose, or fructose. Other types, such as galactose, lactose, and maltose, are less common.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now requires that the amount of added sugar that a food or beverage contains is listed on the nutrition facts label. The label must also list the percent Daily Value (DV).

Meanwhile, single-ingredient sugars and syrups, such as table sugar and maple syrup, have a slightly different nutrition facts label.

For those products, the label will include the percent DV of added sugar. This information may also appear in a footnote at the bottom of the label along with the amount of added sugar (4).

SUMMARY Sugar is commonly added to processed foods. The FDA has defined “sugar” and requires that certain sugars be labeled as “added sugars” in food products.

Glucose or fructose — Does it matter?

In short, yes. Glucose and fructose — even though they’re very common and often found together — may have different effects on your body. Glucose can be metabolized by nearly every cell in your body, while fructose is metabolized almost entirely in the liver (5).

Studies have repeatedly demonstrated the harmful effects of high sugar consumption (678).

These include insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, fatty liver disease, and type 2 diabetes.

As such, eating excessive amounts of any type of sugar should be avoided.

SUMMARY Added sugar goes by many names, and most types consist of glucose or fructose. Avoiding excessive intakes of sugar in your daily diet is an important health strategy.

1. Sugar/sucrose

Sucrose is the most common type of sugar.

Often called “table sugar,” it’s a naturally occurring carbohydrate found in many fruits and plants.

Table sugar is usually extracted from sugar cane or sugar beets. It consists of 50% glucose and 50% fructose, bound together.

Sucrose is found in many foods. A few of them include:

SUMMARY Sucrose is also known as table sugar. It occurs naturally in many fruits and plants, and it’s added to all sorts of processed foods. It consists of 50% glucose and 50% fructose.

2. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS)

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a widely used sweetener, especially in the United States.

It’s produced from corn starch via an industrial process. It consists of both fructose and glucose.

There are several different types of HFCS containing varying amounts of fructose.

The two most common varieties used in foods and beverages are:

  • HFCS 55. This is the most common type of HFCS. It contains 55% fructose, nearly 45% glucose, and water.
  • HFCS 42. This form contains 42% fructose, and the remainder is glucose and water (9).

HFCS has a composition similar to that of sucrose (50% fructose and 50% glucose).

HFCS is found in many foods and beverages, especially in the United States. These include:

  • soda
  • breads
  • cookies
  • candy
  • ice cream
  • cakes
  • cereal bars

SUMMARY High fructose corn syrup is produced from corn starch. It consists of varying amounts of fructose and glucose, but the composition is essentially the same as sucrose or table sugar.

3. Agave nectar

Agave nectar, also called agave syrup, is a very popular sweetener produced from the agave plant.

It’s commonly used as a “healthy” alternative to sugar because it doesn’t spike blood sugar levels as much as many other sugar varieties.

However, agave nectar contains about 70–90% fructose and 10–30% glucose.

It’s used in many “health foods,” such as fruit bars, sweetened yogurts, and cereal bars.

SUMMARY Agave nectar or syrup is produced from the agave plant. It contains 70–90% fructose and 10–30% glucose.

4–37. Other sugars with glucose and fructose

Most added sugars and sweeteners contain both glucose and fructose.

Here are a few examples:

SUMMARY These sugars all contain varying amounts of both glucose and fructose.

38–52. Sugars with glucose

These sweeteners contain pure glucose or glucose that’s combined with sugars other than fructose. These other sugars may include other sugars such as galactose:

  • barley malt
  • brown rice syrup
  • corn syrup
  • corn syrup solids
  • dextrin
  • dextrose
  • diastatic malt
  • ethyl maltol
  • glucose
  • glucose solids
  • lactose
  • malt syrup
  • maltodextrin
  • maltose
  • rice syrup

SUMMARY These sugars are comprised of glucose, either on its own or in combination with sugars other than fructose.

53–54. Sugars with fructose only

These two sweeteners contain only fructose:

  • crystalline fructose
  • fructose

SUMMARY Pure fructose is simply called fructose or crystalline fructose.

55–56. Other sugars

There are a few added sugars that contain neither glucose nor fructose. They’re less sweet and less common, but they’re sometimes used as sweeteners:

  1. D-ribose
  2. galactose

SUMMARY D-ribose and galactose aren’t as sweet as glucose and fructose, but they’re also used as sweeteners.

There’s no need to avoid naturally occurring sugars:

There’s no reason to avoid the sugar that’s naturally present in whole foods.

Fruit, vegetables, and dairy products naturally contain small amounts of sugar but also fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial compounds.

The negative health effects of high sugar consumption are due to the massive amount of added sugar that’s present in the Western diet.

The most effective way to reduce your sugar intake is to eat mostly whole and minimally processed foods.

However, if you decide to buy packaged foods, be on the lookout for the many different names that sugar goes by.

Ways Food Companies Hide the Sugar Content of Foods

Eating a lot of added sugar is bad for your health.

It’s been linked to illnesses like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease (1234).

What’s more, research shows that many people eat too much added sugar. In fact, the average American may be eating around 15 teaspoons (60 grams) of added sugar per day (5678910).

However, most people aren’t pouring lots of sugar on their food.

A large part of your daily sugar intake is hidden inside various packaged and processed foods, many of which are marketed as healthy.

Here are 8 ways that food companies hide the sugar content of foods.

1. Calling sugar by a different name

Sugar is the general name given to the short-chain carbs that give your food a sweet taste. However, sugar has many different forms and names.

You may recognize some of these names, such as glucose, fructose, and sucrose. Others are harder to identify.

Because food companies often use sugars with unusual names, this ingredient can be difficult to spot on labels.

Dry sugar

To stop yourself from accidentally eating too much sugar, look out for these added sugars on food labels:

  • Barley malt
  • Beet sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Buttered sugar
  • Cane juice crystals
  • Cane sugar
  • Caster sugar
  • Coconut sugar
  • Corn sweetener
  • Crystalline fructose
  • Date sugar
  • Dextran, malt powder
  • Ethyl maltol
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • Golden sugar
  • Invert sugar
  • Maltodextrin
  • Maltose
  • Muscovado sugar
  • Panela
  • Palm sugar
  • Organic raw sugar
  • Rapadura sugar
  • Evaporated cane juice
  • Confectioner’s (powdered) sugar

Sugar is also added to foods in the form of syrups. Syrups are usually thick liquids made from large quantities of sugar dissolved in water.

They are found in a wide variety of foods but most often in cold drinks or other liquids.

Common syrups to look out for on food labels include:

SUMMARY Sugar has many different names and forms, which can make it difficult to spot on food labels. Watch out for syrups as well.

2. Using many different types of sugar

Ingredients are listed by weight on packaged foods, with the main ingredients listed first. The more of one item, the higher up on the list it appears.

Food manufacturers often take advantage of this. To make their products appear healthier, some use smaller amounts of three or four types of sugar in a single product.

These sugars then appear further down on the ingredients list, making a product look low in sugar — when sugar is one of its main ingredients.

For example, some protein bars — while considered healthy — are very high in added sugar. There may be as much as 7.5 teaspoons (30 grams) of added sugar in a single bar.

When you read food labels, look out for multiple types of sugar.

SUMMARY Food companies may use three or four different types of sugar in a single product, making it appear lower in sugar than it is.

3. Adding sugar to foods you would least expect

It’s common sense that a piece of cake or a candy bar probably harbors a lot of sugar.

Still, some food manufacturers pour sugar into foods that aren’t always considered sweet. Examples include breakfast cereals, spaghetti sauce, and yogurt.

Some yogurt cups can contain as many as 6 teaspoons (29 grams) of sugar.

Even whole-grain breakfast bars, which may seem like a healthy choice, can pack up to 4 teaspoons (16 grams) of sugar.

As many people don’t realize that these foods have added sugar, they’re unaware of how much they’re consuming.

If you’re buying packaged or processed foods, make sure you read the label and check the sugar content — even if you think the food is healthy.

SUMMARY Sugar is hidden in many foods — even ones that don’t taste sweet. Make sure to check the labels of packaged or processed foods.

4. Using ‘healthy’ sugars instead of sucrose

Food companies also make some of their products appear benign by swapping sugar for an alternative sweetener that’s considered healthy.

These unrefined sweeteners are usually made from the sap, fruit, flowers, or seeds of plants. Agave nectar is one example.

Products with these sweeteners often feature labels like “contains no refined sugar” or “refined sugar-free.” This simply means that they don’t contain white sugar.

These sugars can appear healthier, since some may have a slightly lower glycemic index (GI) score than regular sugar and provide a few nutrients.

However, the amount of nutrients these sugars provide is usually very low. What’s more, unrefined sugar is still added sugar.

Currently, no evidence suggests that it’s beneficial to swap one form of sugar for another, particularly if you’re still eating too much overall.

Common high-sugar sweeteners that are often labeled healthy include:

  • Agave syrup
  • Birch syrup
  • Coconut sugar
  • Honey
  • Maple syrup
  • Raw sugar
  • Cane sugar
  • Sugar beet syrup

If you see these sweeteners on a food label, remember that they’re still sugar and should be eaten sparingly.

SUMMARY Food manufacturers sometimes replace white table sugar with unrefined products. While this can make the product appear healthier, unrefined sugar is still sugar.

5. Combining added sugars with natural sugars on the ingredients list

Certain foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and dairy products, contain naturally occurring sugars. Unlike added sugar, these usually aren’t a health concern.

This is because naturally occurring sugars are generally difficult to eat in large amounts.

Although some fruits contain high amounts of naturally occurring sugar, their fiber and antioxidant contents mitigate the rise in blood sugar. Fiber in fruits and vegetables is also quite filling, making these foods harder to overeat.

Additionally, whole foods provide many beneficial nutrients that can reduce your risk of disease.

For example, one cup (240 ml) of milk contains 3 teaspoons (13 grams) of sugar. Yet, you also get 8 grams of protein and around 25% of your daily requirements for calcium and vitamin D (11).

The same size serving of Coke contains nearly twice the amount of sugar and no other nutrients (12).

Keep in mind that food labels don’t distinguish between natural and added sugars. Instead, they list all of the sugars as a single amount.

This makes it tricky to identify how much sugar is found naturally in your food and how much is added.

However, if you’re eating mostly whole, unprocessed foods — as opposed to packaged or processed items — most of the sugars you’ll consume will be natural.

SUMMARY Food labels often lump added and naturally occurring sugar together into one total amount. Thus, it can be hard to determine how much sugar is added to certain products.

6. Adding a health claim to products

It’s not always easy to tell which products on the shelf are healthy and which aren’t.

Manufacturers often plaster their packaging with health claims, making some items seem healthy when they’re really full of added sugar.

The most common examples include labels like “natural,” “healthy,” “low-fat,” “diet,” and “light.” While these products may be low in fat and calories, they’re often packed with added sugar.

Do your best to ignore these claims and carefully read the label instead.

SUMMARY Products with health claims, such as “diet,” “natural,” or “low-fat,” may still be loaded with sugar.

7. Lowering the portion size

The food industry regularly makes the listed portion size small in order to distort your sense of how much sugar you’re consuming.

In other words, a single product, such as a mini pizza or bottle of soda, may be composed of several servings.

While the amount of sugar in each of these servings might be low, you would typically eat two or three times that amount in one sitting.

To avoid this trap, carefully examine the number of servings per container.

If a small food item has multiple servings, you might end up eating more sugar than you intended.

SUMMARY Food companies often reduce the portion size to make products appear lower in sugar.

8. Making sweet versions of a low-sugar brand

You might know that some of your favorite brands of food are low in sugar.

However, manufacturers sometimes piggyback on an established brand by releasing a new version that packs far more sugar.

This practice is quite common with breakfast cereals. For example, a whole-grain cereal that’s low in sugar may appear in newfangled packaging with added flavors or different ingredients.

This can confuse people who assume that the new version is just as healthy as their usual choice.

If you’ve noticed different packaging for some of your frequent purchases, be sure to check the labels.

SUMMARY Low-sugar brands may still spin out high-sugar products, potentially attracting loyal customers who may not realize the new version isn’t as healthy as the original.

Bottom line:
Added sugar can be difficult to spot.
The easiest way to avoid added sugar is to avoid highly processed goods, selecting unprocessed, whole foods instead.
If you do buy packaged items, make sure you learn how to spot added sugar on food labels.

Photo Credit: Sharon McCutcheon

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