If you're trying to limit the amount of sugar you eat, you need to learn the other names for sugar on food labels. Sugar comes in many forms and goes by so many names that looking for sugar on an ingredient label can feel like reading a Where's Waldo book. With a bit of knowledge, you'll soon become an expert at recognizing sugar on food labels.
Why Worry About Sugar
Sugar is often a hidden ingredient in processed foods. It enhances flavor, promotes browning, and aids in preservation; however, the high sugar content in foods comes with a tradeoff. According to the American Diabetes Association, research shows drinking sugary drinks may lead to type 2 diabetes. Weight gain caused by excessive sugar intake can also be a contributing factor.
The empty calories in sugar provide no nutritional benefit to the body, which is why it is important to learn the other names for sugar.
Finding Sugar on Food Labels
There are many different names for sugar. Two good ways to disguise sugar on food labels is to use a long, scientific sounding word or to rename the sugar altogether.
Ingredients Ending in -ose
An easy way to recognize sugar on a label is by recognizing the -ose suffix. When you find words that end in -ose in the ingredient list, there's a good chance it is sugar. Sugars ending in -ose are:
- High fructose corn syrup
- Glucose solids
Just because it doesn't end in -ose, however, doesn't mean it isn't sugar. Regardless of how they sound, the following are all sugar:
- Cane juice, evaporated cane juice, cane juice solids, cane juice crystals, or dehydrated cane juice: These sweeteners are made from sugar cane. The difference is in the refinement process, how much molasses content is left behind, and the size and texture of the product.
- Agave: Agave comes from the agave plant, is about 1.5 times sweeter than white sugar, and contains fructose.
- Maple syrup: This sweet syrup comes from the sap of maple trees. Unlike white sugar, it is minimally processed.
- Molasses: Molasses is a by-product of the sugar refining process. It has a lower sugar content than other sugars and high nutritional value.
- Honey: Honey is produced by bees from flower nectar they have collected. It contains high amounts of natural sugar and calories but is more nutritious than white sugar.
- Maltodextrin: Maltodextrin is made by refining corn, rice, or potato starch to a fine powder. It is also sometimes made from barley or wheat starch. It's often used as a thickener and is not nearly as sweet as other sugar products.
- Barley malt: This sweetener is significantly less sweet than sugar and made from sprouted barley. It is available in powder or syrup (extract) forms.
- Beet sugar: Beet sugar is made from the sugar beet plant which contains high levels of sucrose.
- Corn syrup: This sugary syrup is made from corn and is found in many sweetened processed foods and beverages.
- Corn syrup solids: This product is dehydrated corn syrup with a small percentage of water left behind.
- Caramel: Made by burning sugar and combining with alkali, caramel is used as a food coloring or flavoring.
- Carob syrup: This syrup, similar in consistency to molasses, is made from the carob pod, a natural sweeter used as a chocolate substitute.
- Brown sugar: Brown sugar, also called yellow sugar or dark brown sugar, is simply white sugar with molasses added. The amount of molasses determines the variants in the sugars' color and taste.
- Date sugar: Date sugar is made from ground or finely chopped, dehydrated dates and not from sugar cane or sugar beets.
- Malt syrup: Malt syrup is created from barley and ground corn and is similar in consistency to honey.
- Diatase and Diatastic malt: These forms of sugar come from wheat or barley and contain enzymes that convert starch (carbohydrates) into sugar. Diatastic malt comes in powder or syrup forms.
- Fruit juice: Fruit juice is the juice of pressed fruit. It contains the fruit's natural sugars.
- Fruit juice concentrate: Fruit juice concentrate is made by evaporating most of the water content from fruit juice. It may or may not have additional sugar added.
- Dehydrated fruit juice: Dehydrated fruit juice is made by evaporating all water content from fruit juice. It's found in powder form.
- Fruit juice crystals: Created from freeze dried fruits, fruit juice crystals may or may not contain added sugar. They are often found rimming a margarita glass or used as flavoring.
- Golden syrup: Golden syrup, also called treacle or refiner's syrup, is made from evaporated sugar cane. It has a similar consistency to corn syrup and a honey color.
- Invert sugar: This sugar is a mix of glucose and fructose and is often found in processed baked goods.
- Turbinado: Turbinado sugar comes from sugar cane and is less refined than white sugar with larger size crystals and a light brown color.
- Raw sugar: Raw sugar is made from the first stage of refining sugar cane and has a strong sweet taste and caramel color.
- Sorghum syrup: Sorghum syrup is a highly nutritious product made from the sorghum plant. It's similar in consistency to honey but has a much darker color.
- Ethyl maltol: Ethyl maltol is a sweet smelling, sweet tasting natural compound used as a flavoring. It's often found in tobacco products, baked good, chewing gum, and beverages.
The best way to avoid excess sugar is to read product labels. Besides the obvious culprits like "sugar," and "high fructose corn syrup," be on the lookout for any of the above sugar ingredients.
Pay attention to the total number of sugar grams. To help keep your sugar intake in perspective, keep in mind that one teaspoon of sugar equals four grams of sugar. With so many products containing added sugars, those grams add up fast.
Sugar doesn't have to be the enemy but should be consumed in moderation. With so many forms of sugar lurking in unexpected places, it's tough to limit your intake. Finding sugar on food labels is tricky, but not impossible. When you are armed with the right information and a willingness to read food labels, hidden sugars won't sabotage your health goals.