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Sugar's Many Disguises

Recognizing Sugar on Food Labels

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Updated April 11, 2014

Granulated White Sugar (Sucrose)

Granulated White Sugar (Sucrose)

Photo © Sanja Gjenero

Although for most purposes simply knowing the carb count is enough information for those following a low carb way of eating, there are times when we want to know whether and how much sugar was added to the food during processing. For example, if the label for a bottled sauce says that a teaspoon has “zero carbs”, that could easily be due to rounding, so that a few tablespoons may start to have carb levels that you care about. By reading the label, you see whether sugar was added to the sauce, and can sometimes get an idea of how much.

What Are Added Sugars?

Sugars are a type of carbohydrate sometimes called “simple carbohydrates”. Sugars occur naturally in many foods, especially fruits, but manufacturers also add sugars to most processed foods these days, because people seem to buy more sweet foods. The presence of these sugars often signals a higher glycemic index in the food.

Sugar Has Many Disguises

Careful reading of labels is necessary to know how much added sugar you are getting. Sometimes there will be small amounts of many types of sugars, so none of them end up being in the the first few ingredients of the label. Other times, sugar masquerades as apparently more “healthy” ingredients, such as honey, rice syrup, or even “organic dehydrated cane juice”. These are sugar. Sometimes fruit juice concentrates will be used, which sound wholesome, but usually the juices chosen, such as white grape, apple, and pear juices, are among the least nutritious of the juices. By the time they are “concentrated”, very little remains but the sugar.

Here is a list of some of the possible code words for “sugar” which may appear on a label. Hint: the words “syrup”, “sweetener”, and anything ending in “ose” can usually be assumed to be “sugar”. If the label says “no added sugars”, it should not contain any of the following, although the food could contain naturally-occurring sugars (such as lactose in milk).
  • Agave Nectar
  • Barley Malt Syrup
  • Beet Sugar
  • Brown Rice Syrup
  • Brown Sugar
  • Cane Crystals (or, even better, "cane juice crystals")
  • Cane Sugar
  • Coconut Sugar, or Coconut Palm Sugar
  • Corn sweetener
  • Corn syrup, or corn syrup solids
  • Dehydrated Cane Juice
  • Dextrin
  • Dextrose
  • Evaporated Cane Juice
  • Fructose
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • Glucose
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Invert sugar
  • Lactose
  • Maltodextrin
  • Malt syrup
  • Maltose
  • Maple syrup
  • Molasses
  • Palm Sugar
  • Raw sugar
  • Rice Syrup
  • Saccharose
  • Sorghum or sorghum syrup
  • Sucrose
  • Syrup
  • Treacle
  • Turbinado Sugar
  • Xylose
Remember, your body doesn't care what the label says, it's all just "sugar"!

A Word About Sugar Alcohols: A lot of "Sugar Free" foods have ingredients called sugar alcohols in them such as maltitol and sorbitol. These ingredients can be as bad or worse than sugar. More information about sugar alcohols, including a comparison chart

  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Low Carb Diets
  4. Low Carb 101
  5. Healthy Eating
  6. Sugar's Many Disguises

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