Although the FDA (and the USDA) has certainly acknowledged and 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.
Unfortunately for the American population, there isn't a wealth of knowledge on the subject, leading to people eating hidden sugars in almost all manufactured foods. Now it's easy to see where this obesity epidemic is coming from.
Do you know all the names for added sugars?
Hidden sugars: Myths & facts.
Sugar masquerades under a variety of disguises, 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 is pretty much impossible. 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 are 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 seem to be choosing this divide and masquerade 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.
Why should we be concerned about added and refined sugars anyway?
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.
The average American consumes at least 64 pounds of sugar per year, and the average teen at least 109 pounds.
Per capita consumption of added sugars has risen by 28 percent since 1983. Americans consume 22 teaspoons of added sugars a day, teens 34 teaspoons.
Common names for hidden sugars
Aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, xylitol, sorbitol, 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, neotame, sugar alcohols, mannitol, advantame.
Do any of those look familiar to you? Many are named with the intent of people thinking they are healthy, including words like corn, fruit juice, raw, etc. Now that you're aware of these common names, make sure to read the back of your food labels, especially the other ingredients list.
Know what you're putting into your body, don't be fooled by good marketing strategies or deceptive word choices. The more you know, the healthier you stay.