The FDA made it easier to spot sneaky added sugar in your food - here's how to avoid it, says nutritionists
- Added sugars are sugars introduced to products or foods to add flavor or extend shelf life.
- Total sugars include added sugars as well as naturally occurring sugars like those found in fruits.
- When reducing
sugarintake, focus more on the added sugarlabel than the total sugar label.
Sugar on nutrition labels is typically divided into two groups - total sugars and added sugars. Here's what you need to know about each.
What are total sugars?
The total sugars section on nutrition labels is just what it sounds like - it tells you the total amount of sugar in a food or drink product. This includes sugars that are naturally present in foods, as well as sugar added during processing.
"Natural sugars are found in carbohydrates, especially fruits," says Melissa Schuster, RDN, the owner and founder of Schuster Nutrition. "Glucose, fructose, and sucrose are the basic forms of sugar found in fruit, and natural sugars are in dairy products in the form of lactose."
What are added sugars?
"Added sugars include sugars that food manufacturers add to products to increase flavor or extend shelf life," says Kate McGowan, RDN, the founder of nutrition company Bittersweet Nutrition. "If you add sugar to your coffee, that is considered added sugar."
In 2016, the Food and Drug Administration changed the Nutrition Facts to include a section for added sugars to help people make more informed choices about their sugar intake.
The majority of added sugar that Americans consume is found in processed foods like:
- Soft drinks
- Fruit drinks
- Milk products
However, not all added sugars go by the same name. There are different types of added sugar to look out for on the ingredients list.
Examples of added sugars
- Brown sugar
- Fruit juice concentrates
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Invert sugar
- Malt sugar
- Raw sugar
- Sugar molecules ending in "ose" like dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose
Are added sugars worse than total sugars?
Added sugars are worse for your
Consuming too much added sugar can also put you at a higher risk for other health problems, including:
- High blood pressure
- Increased risk of cognitive problems including dementia and Alzheimer's
- Colon cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Weight gain
- Kidney disease
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
- Tooth decay
- Cardiovascular disease
What the research says: A large 2014 study tracking people over the course of 15-years found higher intakes of added sugar were associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease. According to the study, people who consumed between 17% to 21% of their calories from added sugar had a 38% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared with those who consumed 8% of their calories from added sugar.
Total sugars are not as bad for your health as added sugars, says Schuster, which means the total sugars label could be misleading for people monitoring their sugar intake.
"[Total sugars] is often not the most helpful measurement to look at, because foods like fruit or dairy contain natural sugars that don't negatively impact health," Schuster says. "Naturally occurring sugars like in fruit and dairy are complemented by other macronutrients like fiber, protein, or fat which helps to blunt the insulin response and better control blood sugar."
How much sugar should I eat a day?
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) advises Americans to limit their intake of added sugars to less than 10% of their total calories consumed each day.
For example, a person following a 2,000 calorie diet should consume no more than 200 calories or 50 grams of added sugar each day.
Reading food labels and paying attention to serving sizes can help you stay on top of your daily sugar intake, according to McGowan.
"Total sugar, which includes added sugar, is often listed in grams," McGowan says. "Note the number of grams of sugar per serving as well as the total number of servings. For example, a package might only say six grams of sugar per serving, but if you consume the entire package, you can easily consume more than 20 grams of sugar in one sitting."
Knowing the difference between total sugars and added sugars can help you keep track of your sugar consumption and make informed choices about what you put in your body.
While you should limit your intake of added sugar, you don't necessarily have to worry as much about total sugars. That's because total sugars include naturally occurring sugars found in fruits and dairy products that also contain vitamins, minerals, and fiber. These slow down the digestion process and therefore are less likely to cause spikes in blood sugar and the harmful health conditions that may follow.
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