Sugar is sugar.
How the food industry hides sugar on nutrition labels with different names, and why
If you’ve ever glanced at the back of food labels in the United States, you will see measurements and percentages of the basic macronutrients and ingredients listed above the complete list of ingredients. In regards to sugar, however, there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors at work here, as sugar is only called by this name if it is pure cane sugar, not when it has gone through synthesis or derived from other sources. This doesn’t change the fact that the sugar content is actually higher than the measurement in the nutrition guide, yet there is no stopping the food industry from lying to consumers.
The Problem with Food Labels
Michelle Obama celebrated a small step in changing how the nutrition label is read, on a cosmetic scale. Sure, this does make it legible, but it does not change how nutrition is calculated on it, namely sugar content. Not only are these other forms of sugar hidden in the ingredients, but they don’t even tell you how much of it is artificial or natural sugars/sweeteners. All the buyer can really do to prepare themselves is memorize the list of sugar pseudonyms and synthesized forms.
Other Names For Sugar
Here is what you will be most familiar with seeing as the main forms of added sugars on labels these days, according to the CDC:
“Added sugars are called by many different names. Examples of added sugars seen on ingredient labels, according to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, include brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, raw sugar, and sucrose.”
Sugar is also secretly being formulated into artificial sweeteners all of the time, either purely man-made or synthesized from a plant. It is important to know that there are over 100 types of sugars out there, so take this information as a word of caution to avoid buying products that contain a laundry list of ingredients. You shouldn’t have to stress yourself out at what the true amount of sugar there is in food items, or in what form you’ll find it.
Glycemic Index and Sugars
One last bit that is important, but left out of the discussion when it comes to sugar being labeled, is how different sugars affect the blood’s glucose levels. This is often referred to as the Glycemic Index (GI). The GI is important for those who have diabetes or are at-risk of developing diabetes. Foods with more sugars and simple carbohydrates will cause sugar levels in the blood to spike, which is not healthy and will do damage to the body over time.
The foods with high GI are the usual suspects that contain lots of sugars, which are, again misrepresented on nutrition labels: breads, cookies, candy, soda, and fruit juices, to name a few. Eating holistic foods like beans, lentils, veggies, potatoes, whole grains, and fresh fruit have low GI, while meat and fat contains no carbs and therefor won’t contribute to diabetes or blood sugar spikes.
A word of caution, however. Complex carbohydrates like the holistic foods listed above aren’t all created equal, either. Future posts will dig into whether you really want to include them in your diet at all.