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Spilling the Sugar Secrets

Today, the term “sugar” seems almost foreign to consumers as food labels are cluttered with alternative scientific aliases for sweet tooth satisfaction.

Sugar is a simple carbohydrate used in our bodies as a source of fuel. Though our bodies do not need sugar to function since it provides no nutrient value, consuming controlled amounts of sugar does not harm our bodies. The American Heart Association advises no more than 6 teaspoons (or 100 calories) for women per day and 9 teaspoons (or 150 calories) for men per day.  One can of “regular” soda has more than 10 teaspoons of sugar, so that is more than the daily limit.

Today, the term “sugar” seems almost foreign to consumers as food labels are cluttered with alternative scientific aliases for sweet tooth satisfaction. Many foods companies are participating in the trend of going back to basic ingredients for a simpler product. For products that still have that overwhelming list of ingredients, knowing what terms to look for can make grocery shopping a breeze.

What else means “sugar” on food labels?

Sugar Aliases

  • Anhydrous dextrose
  • Brown sugar
  • Cane juice
  • Corn syrup
  • Dextrose
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • Fructose
  • Glucose
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Invert sugar
  • Lactose
  • Malt syrup
  • Maltose
  • Molasses
  • Nectar
  • Sucrose
  • Sucralose

Although all of these names refer to sugar, not all sugars are created equal. Added sugars and syrups are added to a product when it is being processed or prepared to make it sweeter. Natural sugars naturally occur in a product and are not added in such as lactose in milk and fructose in fruit.

The amount of sugar shown on a Nutrition Facts label reflects the combination of both natural and added sugars. The only way to be sure of added sugars is to read the ingredient statement, which lists ingredients in descending order by weight. So, if sugar (or one of the aliases listed above) is one of the first few ingredients, the product likely is high in added sugar.

Sweet Tips to Reduce Added Sugars

  • Switch sugary beverages such as regular soda, blended coffee, and sports drinks out for water or non-calorie versions
  • Make sure the fruit juices you drink are 100 percent fruit juice. Non-fruit juice drinks are high in added sugars.
  • Read ingredient labels on cereal. Many cereals are made with lots of sugar and frosting to appeal to children. If sugar is one of the first few ingredients, it is high in added sugars and not the most nutritious choice.
  • Use condiments sparingly. Even sources we don’t usually associate as sweet contain added sugars such as ketchup and salad dressings.
  • Choose canned fruits packed in water or 100% fruit juice instead of syrup. 

What about the sugar used in baking?

Baking often means measuring cups and cups of sugar. Sugar is used in baking to help brown goods and to provide flavor/sweetness. Try reducing white granulated sugar your favorite recipe by 1/3 until you reach a desired sweetness preference. Another suggestion is to substitute brown sugar in place of white sugar. Since brown sugar is sweeter than white sugar, you can typically use less, reducing added sugar content. Sugar substitutes also are an option, although you will need to check the package labelling to determine if it is heat stable (so you can bake it) and what ratio to use.

Knowing where your sources of sugar are coming from throughout the day can help you keep a well-balanced and delicious diet!

References and resources:

Prepared by Jayme Ericson, NDSU Extension Service Intern - Concordia College Dietetic Internship Program.

Filed under: fca newsletter

Sponsored in part by the Sanford Health Foundation.

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