There is a lot of misleading information out there about sugar!
I want to start this post with a disclaimer…I am not a nutritionist, dietician, or any other food specialist…and I only have minimal nutritional education as a Peer Fitness Trainer through the IAFF. But, over the years I have done lots reading and learned some information about food nutrition labels and ingredient lists.
There are a few loose rules manufacturers have to follow when it comes to food labels (I use the term “loose rules” on purpose).
They are required to list the total sugar content, but they don’t have to separate the natural from the added sugars. So, it’s impossible to know how much of the total grams of sugar are natural (i.e. fructose) vs. added (i.e. high fructose corn syrup).
We’ll first talk about the nutrition label and how to determine how much sugar may be in the product you want to buy. I’m only going to touch on the part of the nutrition label that discusses sugar.
Total carbohydrates – listed first, in grams, and includes all of the useable carbs (starch, dietary fibre, all sugars, and complex carbohydrates)
Dietary fibre – usually listed next, in grams. Is indigestible, doesn’t raise your blood sugar, and slows down the impact of the other carbs.
Sugar – usually listed 3rd, in grams. Total amount of sugar from natural (i.e. fructose) and added sugars (i.e. high fructose corn syrup). They are not required to separate out natural vs. added sugar, so you will need to read your ingredients to take a closer look to see if you find any added sugars (I discuss this in more detail below).
Sugar alcohols – not always included, but if it is it will be listed next. Manufacturers would choose these because they are lower in calories than the other sugars, but they still have the same effect on your body. Tricky!
Now, the sum of all these numbers rarely adds up to the “total carbohydrates” because some starches are not required to be listed on the nutrition label.
Nice and confusing, hey?!
Now that you’re even more confused about nutrition labels lets touch on ingredient lists! The best choices of foods don’t have ingredient lists at all (whole foods such as meat, fruit, veggies, nuts, etc). But, if you are going to buy a packaged food, try to buy ones with the smallest ingredient lists and with ingredients that you can pronounce! And remember that the ingredients are listed from most to least, so if you see a sugar listed close to the top it’d be best to avoid that item if you can.
As far as sugars on ingredient lists…there are apparently over 60 different names for added sugars. There’s no way you can remember them all, but there are a couple ways to help you identify them a little easier.
- anything that ends in “ose” (i.e. maltose, sucralose, etc).
- anything with “dex” (i.e. maltodextrin, dextrose).
- anything “syrup” (i.e. high fructose corn syrup [HFCS], malt syrup, rice syrup).
- anything “tol” (i.e. sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol), which are sugar alcohols.
It’s very sneaky how manufacturers can get us eating extra sugars when we think we are making wise choices. It is important to be informed on how to read labels and ingredients to make the best choices for you and your family.
Watch for my next post on front label trickery! These manufacturers are sneakier than you realize!