36 Hidden Names for Added Sugar

What are “added sugars”? Where do they come from? What does it all mean? How much should we have? These are all great questions. Let me try to explain.

Sugar can come in many forms and those that are not naturally found in the food are considered added sugars. This means, it has been added during the processing, packaging, or preparation of any foods and beverages. Ultimately, added sugars are only going to be found in prepared foods, not unprepared whole foods (like vegetables, fruit and milk). Examples of foods that may have added sugars are breads, baked goods, crackers, food bars, beverages, cereals, granola, yogurts, sauces, salad dressings, candy, and desserts. You can also add sugar yourself to foods or beverages with honey, agave nectar, or syrup to name a few.

The issue with added sugar is simply, it is added sugar. This means it adds calories, has a high glycemic index, and really has no true health benefits. Added sugars are correlated with the risk of heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, poor dental health, fatty liver, depression, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer, and of course, spikes blood glucose when already living with diabetes. For those who have to manage hypoglycemia, this is why we treat lows with simple sugars, it brings our numbers up quickly.

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that added sugars be less than 10% of your daily caloric intake. This is the same as, less than 50g or 12 tsp of sugar each day for a 2000 calorie per day diet. Of course, if you are on lower or higher calorie diet, that number would change. The American Heart Association recommends men to eat less than 36g (9 tsp) per day and women to have less than 24g (6 tsp) per day of added sugars. Basically, the less added sugar you have in your diet, the better.

So how much added sugar is in commonly eaten foods? Here are some examples:

Food Added Sugar Content
1 teaspoon sugar 4g
1 tablespoon ketchup 4g
1 fig bar 12g
1c of sweetened cereal 12g
2 tablespoons BBQ sauce 14g
1 tablespoon honey 17g
6oz flavored yogurt 18g
20oz bottle sports drink 30g
1c vanilla ice cream 32g
1 can regular soda 40g
1 slice chocolate cake 49g

Some of you may have noticed the new food label being released. This will happen in stages depending on the company size over the next few years, with all food labels to be transitioned by 2021.  The new food label now has “added sugar” under total sugar. Total sugar is both the natural sugars found in the food, plus the added sugar discussed above. The added sugars will now be designated separately. The intention for doing this, was so consumers could make more informed choices about their food and beverages.

A good way to use food labels is to keep an eye on the percent daily value. If a food is low, it will have less than 5% of the nutrient and if a food is high, it will have greater than 20% of the nutrient. Always remember to check the portion size, as the nutrient breakdown is only for one serving. Let’s take a look at the example food label included:

This mystery food has a serving size of 2/3 cup (that is a measuring cup, not a beverage cup or a mug). One serving has 10g of added sugar or 20% daily value. That means, that the mystery food is high in added sugar, as there is 20% daily value. Keep in mind, if you eat more than one serving, let’s say you ate 1 1/3 cup of this mystery food, that would be 2 servings and therefore, 40% daily value or 40% of the amount of added sugar you should eat in one day.

Hopefully this helps, but the truth is, there is still a few more years until all foods will have the new food label. In the meantime, you can check the list of ingredients to understand if a food has added sugar.

Food ingredient lists are listed in descending order by weight. So the first ingredient makes up the most in that food, the second is the second most, the third is the third most, and so on. You can check food ingredient lists for added sugars and scope out how far up it is on the list. Added sugars come in many forms and names. Below is a cheat sheet (feel free to print it out and bring it with you to the store) for different names of added sugars. Many prepared foods will contain multiple types of added sugar so, read carefully.

Agave nectar Dextrose Maple syrup
Anhydrous dextrose Evaporated cane juice Molasses
Beet sugar Fructose Pancake syrup
Brown rice syrup Fruit juice concentrates Powdered sugar
Brown sugar Fruit nectars Raw sugar
Cane crystals Glucose Rice syrup
Coconut palm sugar High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) Sucrose
Confectioners powdered sugar Honey Sugar
Corn sweetener Invert sugar Sugar cane syrup
Corn syrup Lactose Table sugar
Corn syrup solids Maltose Turbinado
Crystalline fructose Malt syrup White granulated sugar

To avoid confusion, non-nutritive sweeteners and sugar alcohols like saccharin, aspartame, sucralose, stevia, monk fruit sweetener, erythritol, mannitol, and sorbitol are not considered added sugars. These substitutes do not effect the body in the same way as added sugars and is an entirely different discussion.

Food labels can be confusing. But the take home message is, added sugars of any type, should be limited for overall health, well-being, and glycemic control. You can try adding whole foods to your choices for sweetness (like putting fresh fruit in your oatmeal or plain yogurt). Hopefully, this helps simplify the scoop on added sugars.

  1. Great, informative article.

  2. Sugar alcohol – can you explain how it works in our body and should we limit the amount of sugar alcohol contained on a daily basis? Does it cause gas in our digestive system? Thank you for your reply. Bette

    • Hi Bette,
      There are many types of sugar alcohols used in food processing. Sugar alcohols are a hybrid sweetener made from sugar and alcohol which are poorly (if at all) absorbed. Because they are not fully absorbed, this can cause GI discomfort (like gas and bloating). Also, they do not spike blood sugar the same or contribute as many calories to foods compared to added sugars discussed in the article. Since some (carb) is absorbed, it can change insulin dosing for people using carb to insulin ratios. There is no set guidelines or limit for sugar alcohol intake per day.

  3. I could probably look it up on Google, but what about Sorghum? I used to chew on sorghum sticks when I was a kid. Sorghum genetically is very close to corn. Is sorghum a unique & distict sugar chemically?

    • Hi Walter, sorghum nutritionally speaking is similar to a grain. There also is sorghum syrup, which can be used as a sweetener, but this would also be considered an added sugar. One tablespoon of sorghum syrup has 15g of sugar/carbs which is equivalent to 1 tablespoon of table sugar.

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