How to Identify Sugar on Nutrition Labels


a mix of nutrition labels

Sugar is arguably the biggest threat to your health and your weight. Not the natural sugars that are present in whole foods like fruit and dairy (“Added vs Natural Sugar”) but added sugars that food manufacturers put into processed and packaged foods – often in very large amounts.

Added sugar is directly responsible for a host of medical maladies from obesity to cancer. It contains no nutrients like amino acids, vitamins, minerals or fiber, but requires and uses nutrients to be digested. Added sugars are nothing but empty calories that steal nutrients from your body.

Not only that, added sugar increases cravings so you end up eating more than you should – that’s why one cookie is seldom enough.

Many people eat way too much sugar…

  • The average American consumes at least 64 pounds of sugar per year, and the average teenager consumes 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. This is four-times the recommended amount.

Sugar is added to over 70 percent of processed foods which makes it hard to avoid – unless you become more label-savvy. Sugar leads to cravings and buying more processed foods which is great for the food manufacturing industry but not very good for you, the consumer.

Avoiding too much sugar should be easy; simply read the nutrition labels on the food you are thinking of buying and then avoid those foods that are obviously high in sugar. Some foods may even display “no added sugar” or “low sugar” on the packaging. I’ve shared 5 tips at “How to Avoid Sugar ?”

The thing is, food manufacturers are pretty clever and often hide the sugar content of their foods in plain sight. Details of the sugar in your food ARE listed on the nutrition labels but not always clearly; it can take some skill and knowledge to decipher the information. Added sugar can be listed using over 60 different names which can makes it hard to identify. Just because a product doesn’t list sugar as an ingredient doesn’t mean sugar hasn’t been added; it’s just in a form that is not sucrose or table sugar.  “The 61 different names used for sugar”

Cutting down on added sugar is arguably the most important thing you can do for your long-term health. If you want to keep your risk of developing serious medical conditions like diabetes and metabolic syndrome to a minimum, manage your weight, and stay healthy – your sugar intake should be relatively low.

To achieve this, you must learn to read food labels. Of course, you can avoid almost all added sugar by simply eating more natural foods and less processed foods. However, convenience is an important consideration when choosing what food to eat and, sometimes, food simply has to come out of a packet, tin, or jar – there is not always enough time to make all meals from scratch.

 Step 1 – Look for total sugars

nutrition label sugar highlightedThis figure represents the sum total of sugars in your food. It includes both natural sugars such as fructose and lactose as well as added sugars.

Natural sugars are seldom a problem as they are in relatively small amounts and are low on the glycemic index meaning they are broken down and digested slowly.

Added sugars are generally high in the glycemic index, are broken down and digested quickly, and are much less healthy.

Remember, five grams of sugar is roughly equal to one heaped teaspoon. In this example, a single serving of this food contains 6 teaspoons of sugar. Imagine putting that in your coffee!

Despite being relatively low in calories and very low in fat, this food contains almost all of the recommended amount of added sugar for a women and 75 percent for a man. It’s no wonder that so many people eat so much added sugar!

 Step 2 – Check the ingredients list 

ingredients list with different names for sugarTake a look at this list of ingredients. All of those names are different terms for sugar! There are over 60 different names for sugar that are approved for use on food labels. Just because sugar is not listed, doesn’t mean that sugar has not been added to the food you have eaten.

Food manufacturers know that people are getting more label-conscious and are on the lookout for sugar. Subsequently, they use a slew of different names for sugar so, even if you read the label, you may not realize how much sugar is in the food you are eating.

Check out the article  “61 Different Names For Sugar” to discover all the different names the food industry uses for sugar in an attempt to fool you.

Added sugars are listed by weight – from greatest to least. So, if the first few ingredients listed are sugars, you know the food you are holding has a very high added sugar content and is best left on the shelf.

Step 3 – Compare the sugar content of similar food products 

A very effective way to see how much sugar is in the food you are eating is to compare product labels side by side. For example, take a no-added-sugar cereal and a regular breakfast cereal and compare total sugar per same-sized serving. You’ll often be surprised at the difference. Do the same with natural yogurt and fruit-flavored yogurt. Try comparing canned peaches packed in syrup to peaches in natural juice. By comparing similar products and different brands, you’ll soon create a library of low sugar foods and will know which foods are high sugar and should be avoided.

How to eat less added sugar

Now you know how to identify added sugars you can make informed choices about what you buy to eat. Needless to say, eating more natural foods and fewer processed foods makes eating less sugar much easier.

If, however, you like cakes and cookies (and who doesn’t!) there is no need to give up these foods completely. Instead of buying these foods, consider making your own. That way you’ll know exactly how much sugar you are eating and can even make a point of using natural, healthy sweeteners in place of regular sucrose or table sugar.

Good, natural, sugar alternatives that contain at least some healthy nutrients include:

  • Stevia
  • Coconut palm sugar
  • Raw honey
  • Molasses
  • Raw maple syrup
  • Lucuma powder
  • Artichoke syrup

While these ingredients are still forms of sugar, the fact that they contain vitamins and minerals makes them better than regular sugar and much healthier than added sugars. They still contain calories and should only be eaten in moderation but are much healthier than sucrose.

While you might be tempted to replace sugar with artificial sweeteners which are very low in calories or even calorie-free, don’t. Things like aspartame and Sweet ‘N’ Low are nothing more than chemicals that can be toxic and are associated with just as many serious medical conditions are the sugar you are trying to replace.

Once you know how to read nutrition labels, it’s much easier to avoid sugar (5 tips on “How to Avoid Sugar ?”). Initially, it might take you extra time when shopping for groceries to identify high sugar foods but, after a few trips, you’ll soon know which ones to avoid. A few minutes’ extra time spent grocery shopping could literally add years to your life so this really is a worthwhile thing to do.


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Hi, my name is Sarah and I’m so happy that you’re here! I've shared my story here

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