Surprising Sources of Sugar: Is Extra Sugar Hiding in Your Food?

Added sugars sneak their way into many “healthy” foods. Discover the different names for sugar and how to detect them in your everyday foods.

Assortment of sugary foods like candies, gummy candies, donuts, soda, chocolate, lollipop, wafers and cupcakes.

Sugar and spice and everything not so nice. Cutting back on the amount of sugar you have can boost health and energy levels. But even if you’re trying to cut back on the sweet stuff, added sugars sneak their way into surprising everyday foods. We’ll teach you the different names for sugar and how to detect them.

Why cut down on sugar?

Excess sugar, particularly the type that’s added to processed foods, can impact health both short-term and long-term. Short-term, sugar causes blood sugar fluctuations which can lead to increased hunger and cravings. Long-term it can increase inflammation in the body, which in excess is damaging to cells and organs (1). Studies suggest that too much sugar in the diet can contribute to the development of heart disease and diabetes (2). 

Too much sugar can also lead to weight gain. Weight gain is brought on by an excess of calories in relation to how many calories you burn through normal body function, daily activities, and exercise. It can also be influenced by some hormones that store more food energy as fat. Sugar can also deplete nutrients in your body, impacting the speed of your metabolism (3). 

How much sugar is too much?

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends reducing daily sugar intake to less than 10% of total calorie intake. They suggest that aiming for 5% per day will give additional benefits. For a 2,000 Cal diet, this equals about 6 teaspoons (25 grams or 100 Calories) (4). 

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting added sugar to no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams or 100 Calories) for women and 9 teaspoons (36 grams or 150 Calories) for men per day (5).

To put this in perspective, one can of soda contains 8 teaspoons (32 grams) of added sugar. The average American consumes about 77 grams of sugar per day, which is more than 3 times the recommended amount for women. 

Where are sneaky sugars hiding? 

From 2005-2009, a significant 75% of processed foods contained either caloric or non-caloric sweeteners (6). Some of the most commonly known ones were sweet such as sodas and other sweetened beverages, cakes, cookies, candy, pastries, and ice cream. 

Food manufacturers also like to sneak sugar into unsuspecting foods such as sauce (marinara, marinating, BBQ) yogurt, bread, soup, milk alternative (soy milk, almond milk, oat milk), energy or granola bars, and dried fruits. 

You may be asking why food manufacturing companies would load up on sugar in sometimes unnecessary products. Sugar can help preserve food, extending the shelf life, but also making it more appetizing, meaning it keeps you coming back for more. 

Sugar by any other name

While processed foods are required to indicate the total sugar content, food manufacturers don’t have to say whether it comes from added sugar or natural ingredients such as fruit or milk. Since sugar comes in many forms with about 60 different names, it can be difficult to identify (7).

The nutrient label on processed foods can help you understand how much sugar it contains. A good rule of thumb is the fewer ingredients the better. Instead of using the grams of sugar as your guide, take a look at the ingredient list. 

To help you play “sugar detective”, here are some common names for added sweeteners:

  • Agave
  • Malt or barley malt syrup 
  • Molasses or blackstrap molasses
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Cane juice
  • Caramel
  • Coconut blossom nectar
  • Concentrated juice or fruit juice concentrate (such as apple)
  • Corn sugar or corn syrup 
  • Crystallized fructose 
  • Date or coconut sugar
  • Dextrose
  • Evaporate or dehydrated cane juice 
  • Fructose 
  • Glucose 
  • Honey
  • Invert sugar
  • Maltose (8)

The health of homemade 

Identifying hidden sugars in processed foods can be tricky. One of the best ways to reduce your overall sugar intake is to make foods at home. It’s also a great way to reduce fat, salt, and calorie consumption. 

Studies have found that people who ate frequently at home (about six to seven nights per week) ate about 16 grams less sugar per day when compared to people who only ate at home once per week. The at home eaters also ate about 150 Calories less per day (9). 

Not sure how to get started in the kitchen? No problem! The Lifesum app is designed with you in mind. It offers personalized and easy to follow diets and meal plans with hundreds of tasty and nutritious recipes

Know your sweets status  

If you want to maintain a healthy weight while helping to prevent disease, decreasing your added sugar intake can make a significant difference. It all comes down to practicing moderation and knowing yourself and your relationship with sugar. 

Having a bit of sugar and mindfully enjoying it is perfectly ok when you’re able to keep sweets as an occasional treat. If you’re the type of person who gets a taste of sugar and can’t stop the cravings, then it may be helpful to take a break

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All of the content and media on Lifesum is created and published for information purposes only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Users should always consult with a doctor or other health care professional for medical advice. If you have or think you are at risk of developing an eating disorder, do not use the Lifesum app and seek immediate medical help.