Hidden Sugars in Your Food

As a new healthcare practitioner, I often hear from my patients that honey is less ‘fattening’’ than sugar. Therefore, they use it in replace for the “bad” sugar. As a matter of fact, honey contains more calories (64 calories ) than sugar (49 calories) per tablespoon. The misconceptions and confusions about calories in different forms of added sugars and sweeteners are very common amongst the public. Sugars, disguised in over 61 different names, are hidden in many food products ranging from sodas, pastries, dried fruits, and even foods that don’t taste sweet, such as tomato sauces and . In this article, you will learn about the common names for added sugars in processed foods and the differences between natural sugars vs. added sugars. 

Common names for added sugars used by the food industry:
•    Honey
•    Syrup, ie. high fructose corn syrup, rice syrup, maple syrup
•    Sugar, ie. raw sugar, coconut sugar, brown sugar, invert sugar
•    Terms that ends with ‘-ose’, ie. glucose, maltose, fructose, sucrose, dextrose
•    Cane, ie. cane juice, cane juice crystals
•    Dextrin
•    Juice, ie. fruit juice concentrate
•    Molasses 

So why should we care about added sugars? From epidemiological studies, they show that sugar consumption is strongly associated with overweight and obesity, which are major risk factors for Type II Diabetes. Excessive sugar consumption also increases triglyceride levels in the blood, which is linked to increased risks for developing heart disease. In addition, according to Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015, added sugars are empty calories, which provide few to no nutrients to the body other than just calories. Added sugars are metabolized in the body quickly, thus leading to rapid rises in blood sugar levels. This is different from the natural sugars found in wholesome foods, such as fruits, grains, and dairy products. They provides the body with proteins, fibers, vitamins, minerals and more, which also slow down how the body digests and absorbs natural sugars in foods. 

So how much added sugar can we consume? The American Heart Association recommends that daily added sugar limit be no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams) for men and 6 teaspoons (25 grams) for women.  However, there are some nutrient-dense foods such as breakfast cereals, yogurts, cranberry juices and granola bars with added sugars while they contain beneficial nutrients for health. So next time when you do grocery shopping, take a look at the ingredient list and try to identify sources of added sugar, as well as the amount of added sugars on the nutrition label.  Knowing how to compare different products for their added sugars and other nutrients content is a tool to help you choose healthier food options to better meet your calorie and nutritional needs. 

Written by Ian Lei Chan, RDN

Copyright © | Bor S. Luh Food Safety Research Center  of Shanghai Jiao Tong University 2015