Label fables part I I – Sugar

You spot a neatly packaged product in the grocery store isle and pick it up. The front of the package reads : “Whole grains” and maybe even “organic”. You immediately want to buy it. But wait, the voice in your head urges you to read the ingredients label, so you turn it around and read the ingredients. Despite being short on time, you read all the ingredients. Sugar doesn’t appear until the third line and you promptly put the item in your cart, satisfied that you made a healthy choice.

Or did you?

You diligently read the ingredients – but like most people, don’t really know what many of those names mean. While you were on the look out for “sugar”, and “high fructose corn syrup”, you might have missed several other ingredients that food processors cleverly put on the label in order to hide the actual amount of sugar. Since ingredients are put in descending order by weight, sugars are listed separately and in smaller amounts, making it much more difficult (for the consumer) to determine the amount of added sugar in a processed product.

Like the many different names of MSG in my last post, sugar has many different names too. Some are easy to spot while some might not be as easy.

  1. Names ending in ‘ose’ – Sucrose, Maltose, Fructose, Dextrose, Glucose, Galactose, Glucose solids, Lactose, crystalline fructose, anhydrous dextrose.
  2. Syrup – Corn syrup, Buttered syrup, Carob syrup, Malt syrup, Golden syrup, sorghum syrup, maple syrup, rice syrup, agave syrup, cane syrup, date syrup, refiner’s syrup, molasses syrup, oat syrup (avena sativa), rice bran syrup, syrup, tapioca syrup, barley malt syrup, pan cake syrup
  3. Sugars – beet sugar, buttered sugar, brown sugar, castor sugar, cane sugar, golden sugar, coconut sugar, cane sugar, invert sugar, raw sugar, organic raw sugar, muscovado sugar, raspadura sugar, confectioner’s sugar, palm sugar, grape sugar, demerara sugar, turbinado sugar
  4. Solids – corn syrup solids, glucose solids,
  5. Nectars – Agave nectar, ‘any fruit’ nectar
  6. Concentrate – Any ‘fruit juice’ concentrate, particularly grape, apple and pear.
  7. Crystals – Cane crystals, cystalline fructose, floride crystals cane juice crystals,
  8. Other names – Evaporated cane juice. Blackstrap molasses, caramel, diatase, treacle, barley malt, dextran, ethyl maltol, panocha, honey, molasses, diastatic malt.

    imag3831_1

Our metabolism does not differentiate between the different varieties of added sugars so it’s important to be aware of all the sources of added sugars (whatever their names may be).

Food labeling laws don’t require processed food companies to separate naturally occurring sugars (which are OK) from added sugars (which should be avoided). Naturally occurring sugar is alright only if consumed in its whole food form, such as from a fruit (not fruit juice) or from unsweetened yogurt, because fibre and other essential micronutrients are also a part of the whole food and the natural sugars in it aren’t as quickly absorbed by the body. Whenever sugar is processed and isolated and added separately to make food sweeter, that added sugar is stripped of the natural fibre and micronutrients, making it a source of empty calories.

Bottom line – if you are eating whole foods in their natural, unprocessed form, do not worry about the natural sugars. However, if you are eating primarily processed food, it is important to keep track of both natural as well as added sugars (with their many different names and forms).

An important point to remember when reading nutrition labels:
4 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon