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How to Read Labels for Sugar

By Alice T Breeze. Updated: May 31, 2018
How to Read Labels for Sugar

It is known that most foods, especially when processed or packaged contain sugar. In fact, only in the UK two million tonnes of sugar are consumed every year. It's important to know how to read labels for sugar, as this ingredient is not only found in apparently sweet products such as chocolate, sweets and cakes, but there are also considerable amounts of added sugars included in savory foods, especially sauces, canned food and even bread. This is due to the fact that this ingredient boosts flavors and helps preserve the products for a longer period of time.

No matter if you want to cut down on sugar for health reasons, to lose weight or because you are diabetic, at oneHOWTO we want to guide you through all the ins and outs when reading labels for sugar.

You may also be interested in: How many Grams are in a Spoonful of Sugar?

Recommended daily intake

Before we tell you how to read labels for sugar, it's important you know the recommended daily intake. As we've pointed out in the introduction, there are many foods that contain sugar that we'd never suspect, so you may be consuming a higher amount of sugar than you'd originally think.

The recommended daily intake of sugar is 37.5 grams in men and 25 grams in women. The acceptable amount of sugar in a product should be between 2.5g and 5g per 100g. Products above 10g per 100g means it contains a high amount of sugar.

What happens if you exceed this daily intake regularly? Sugar increases blood glucose levels, which can lead to a higher risk of diabetes and liver related diseases. This is due to the fact that the liver turns any excess sugar into fat. For this same reason, sugar can lead to an increased body weight. Moreover, it can also cause caries and affect your tooth enamel

How to Read Labels for Sugar - Recommended daily intake

Reading labels for sugar levels

Do not get distracted by empty words on labels reading low-sugar, low-fat, sugar-free or no added sugars. If you want to know the amount of sugar that a certain product really contains, always check the nutritional facts and ingredients, labels may be misleading.

Natural vs added sugar

Manufacturers are not obliged to add the amount of natural sugars in products. These natural sugars are found in products that contain ingredients that have sugar in them such as milk, fruit, cereal and grains. As they don't have to be properly labelled, these natural sugars are usually counted as carbohydrates. Therefore, you should look out for products that exceed 15g per 100g.

Added sugars are usually disclosed under carbohydrates and, as we've said, a high amount of sugar means that the product contains more that 10g of sugar per 100g. These should always be specifically labelled.

Finding sugar in the ingredients label

Finding sugar sources may be vitally important for people with fructose allergies, intolerance or people with diabetes. This is why it's also important to read the ingredients label so you can decipher whether it contains any sugar or not.

There are three ingredients you should look out for, which are all simple sugars: surcose, glucose and fructose. The difference is that they are processed differently. Glucose is the substance that secretes insulin, which is why diabetics should look out for this component, because, though it's not bad, this means they should closely monitor their blood sugar levels. Surcose is the actual sugar that is obtained from cane sugar whereas Fructose is the natural sugar that foods contain.

If you find any of these names on a label, it means that the product does, in fact, have sugar.

Sugar-free products

There are many products that have a 'light' version or 'sugar free' version of the same product. As some of these claims can be misleading, a good trick to know the difference is to compare the carbohydrates in both items. If the amount of carbohydrates is the same in both products, it means that they will contain the same amount of natural sugars. Moreover, light or sugar-free products use sugar substitutes and sweeteners. Take a look at the next section to learn more about them.

For more information, take a look at our articles to know what light means on food labels.

How to Read Labels for Sugar - Reading labels for sugar levels

Sugar substitutes

Staying focused on the ingredients label, you should know that there are certain components that can substitute sugar. They can be either natural or artificial sweeteners, but you should know how to tell them apart. Therefore, never trust a label that just adds 'sweetener' as an ingredient, as this definition can be misleading.

Natural sweeteners

  • Sugar alcohols: These are the most common in light or sugar-free products. These include Xylitol, Sorbitol and Mannitol. Though they may be safe and natural if used in the right amounts, taking these in excess may cause a laxative effect and other gastric problems. We should note that Xylitol is suitable for diabetics.
  • Syrups: Agave, Brown rice, Barley malt and maple are the most common. If you find these on a label, don't forget to look at the carbohydrates in the nutritional facts, as these contain natural sugars within. They are not suitable for fructose intolerant people.
  • Molasses: This is a byproduct that comes from sugar cane, resulting from the refinement of sugar. It is therefore, the 'healthy part' that is set aside from white sugar. These also have a very high amount of fructose, so it can raise blood sugar levels.

Artificial sweeteners

  • Aspartame: Probably the most well-known artificial sweetener, aspartame is even forbidden in some countries as it has been linked to several diseases according to some studies. Even though, it is FDA and EFSA approved. This is a common sweetener used in sodas that claim they have no sugar at all.
  • Saccharin: This common artificial sweetener is a chemical that is not known to be harmful for humans.
  • Neotame: This product is 3000 times sweeter than sugar, making the craving of sweet products even higher.
  • Surlacose: This product can also be categorized as E955. It is also one of the sweetest tasting artificial sweeteners and is perfectly safe for diabetics.

If you want to read similar articles to How to Read Labels for Sugar, we recommend you visit our Food & drink category.

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