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Food Labels: How to Spot Hidden Sugars

  
  
  
  

Figuring out how much sugar has really been added to your yogurt, cereal, bread or energy bar can be a challenging proposition. Although the FDA (and the USDA) has tried to define the term "added sugars," or those sugars that aren't naturally occurring in foods (for example, fruits), the government is leaving it up to us to be food detectives and learn all the various names for sugar and, more importantly, how much of it we're actually putting in our mouths.

sugar scrub resized 600Sugar masquerades under a variety of guises, such as dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, invert sugar and maltose, but trying to figure out what percentage of calories these sugars represent in a packaged food product can be confusing.

That's because the FDA has refused to add an "Added Sugars" line (in grams) within the "Sugars" section on the nutrition facts label. Instead, added sugars are only mentioned in the ingredient list -- and only in decreasing weight order, not by percentage of calories.

Realizing this loophole, some food companies take some extreme liberties. Not only are they using some of those tricky sugar synonyms in the ingredient list, but they're also using several of them, in a single product. Added sugars are added sugars. No matter what you call them, they do pretty much the same thing to food (make it taste sweeter). So by dividing the total amount of added sugars into three or four different sugar names instead of using just one type of sugar, companies are able drop their added sugars further down the list (the less the weight, the lower the rank on the ingredient list).

So for example, if a manufacturer wants to sweeten up a certain brand of crackers, it can either do this using 15 grams of "sugar" or, 5 grams of "malt syrup," 5 grams of "invert sugar" and 5 grams of "glucose". Some manufacturers choose this divide and deceive method, placing these ingredients lower down on their products' lists, making us believe that the amount of sugar in the product is smaller than it is. 

Here are four examples of foods that have divided their total added sugar content between several confusing synonyms for empty calories:

Chocolate Chip Bars
Granola (whole grain oats, brown sugar, crisp rice (rice flour, sugar, salt, malted barley extract), whole grain rolled wheat, soybean oil, dried coconut, whole wheat flour, sodium bicarbonate, soy lecithin, caramel color, nonfat dry milk), corn syrup, semisweet chocolate chips, brown rice crisp, sunflower oil, oligofructose, polydextrose, corn syrup solids, glycerin. Contains 2 percent or less of water, invert sugar, salt, molasses, sucralose, natural and artificial flavor, BHT, citric acid

Nutrition Bars
Soy protein nuggets, Yogurt coating (sugar, palm kernel oil, nonfat fry milk solids, Yogurt powder, soy lecithin, salt), corn syrup, milk protein isolate, fructose, almonds, palm oil, water

Wheat Thins
Whole grain wheat flour, unbleached enriched flour, soybean oil, sugar, cornstarch, malt syrup, salt, invert sugar, monoglycerides, leavening, vegetable color

Club Crackers
Enriched flour, soybean oil with TBHQ for freshness, sugar, contains two percent of less of: salt, leavening, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, cornstarch, soy lecithin

Why should we be concerned about added and refined sugars? Because we're getting way too much of it, and all those extra, nutritionally empty calories can contribute, in many diets, to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and risk factors for heart disease, according to the American Heart Association. As noted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), people who consume diets high in added sugars consume lower levels of fiber, vitamins and minerals, and other nutrients, and by displacing these protective nutrients, added sugars may increase the risk of osteoporosis, certain cancers, high blood pressure and other health problems.

What can you do?  Educate yourself. I've included a list of sweeteners below for you to reference when you're checking labels.

Common sweeteners:
corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, invert sugar, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, raw sugar, sucrose, sugar syrup, cane crystals, cane sugar, crystalline fructose, evaporated cane juice, corn syrup solids, malt syrup.

Holly Aglialoro
Fitness Enthusiast and Guest Blogger

 

Comments

Okay...I have a degree in fitness/exercise but nutritionally, have been confused about something...I know that bagels are loaded with bad carbs and are almost a for-sure weight gainer. Running marathons, it's important my weight stays with 5 pounds at all times.  
 
OATMEAL! I had a friend recommend oatmeal this past winter. Take a small ziplock bag, and at a place like Starbucks or McDonald's, ask for a cup of hot water and pour your oatmeal in...the Maple & Brown Sugar is absolutely LOADED with sugar (obviously) so, my question is, how can I make the 'old fashioned' oatmeal not taste so horribly bland without dumping grams of sugar?  
 
Your secrets to making oatmeal (or any 'filling' snack, greatly appreciated!!
Posted @ Friday, February 11, 2011 1:58 PM by Jonathan
Hi, Jonathan. Thank you for your message. 
 
To make a low-sugar oatmeal, try adding spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, or Chinese 5-Spice powder. Also, adding a packet of stevia, saccharin, or even brown sugar might enhance the palatability. 
 
 
 
Bagels are not necessarily "bad" carbs--it's just that many bagels today weigh over 5 ounces! Have half of a whole wheat bagel with some low-fat cheese and you have a decent post-workout snack.
Posted @ Friday, February 11, 2011 4:08 PM by Holly
I eat the 'old fashioned' oats everyday and my treat is to add fresh fruit (banana, apple, etc.) I also add walnuts, because of the crunch and 'good' fat. I rarely use sweetner when there is fruit in there, but use stevia when I don;t add fruit.
Posted @ Tuesday, May 17, 2011 1:37 PM by Ms. Pickett
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