Beginning in 2020, a new rule by the Food and Drug Administration will require that nutrition information on packaged foods include a section that specifies added sugars, making it much easier for people to see exactly what they’re eating.
“That distinction is going to be game-changing,” says Connie Cheng, Gold’s Gym wellness director.
Until then, it’s up to you to learn how to find the added sugar content. We’re here to help. The first thing to know is that there are two types of sugars: natural and added. Natural sugars, Cheng says, are found mainly in fruit and dairy products. “Anything else has added sugar, or sugar added after processing.”
The American Heart Association says the steady increase in consumption of added sugars has contributed to the nation’s obesity epidemic and, in turn, poor heart health.
Some foods that contain added sugars are obvious: soft drinks, cookies, candy, ice cream and anything with “sweetened” on the label. Others may be surprising, such as bread, spaghetti sauce and salad dressing — items that could easily sabotage your healthy lifestyle.
Spot the sugar
Here are some pointers to remember during your next shopping trip:
- Carbs mean sugar, unless the food is fruit or dairy. “The total carbohydrates in plain [unsweetened] yogurt are from natural sugars,” Cheng says. “In anything that’s not fruit or dairy — such as bread — know those total carbs come from added sugar, not fiber.” Also, some breads labeled “gluten free” contain processed starch powders or oils that can cause inflammation to make up for the lost texture found in gluten. Look for breads with whole grains.
- If a product maker takes something out, it is frequently putting something back in. “A fat-free salad dressing may have lower fat, but it will have higher sugar to compensate for that loss of flavor,” she says.
- Looking at ingredients on food labels is key. “Ingredients are listed in order of weight from heaviest to lightest,” Cheng says. “If one of the sugars is listed near the top, the product is mostly made of that.”
Here are a few of our favorite staples that keep the sugar down and that won’t break your budget.
- Trader Joe’s Whole Grain Bread
- Nature’s Own 100% Whole Grain
- Open Nature Old Fashioned Creamy Peanut Butter
Sweet cheat sheet
There are dozens of names for added sugar. Look for these ingredients when inspecting product labels:
- Agave nectar
- Brown sugar
- Cane sugar, cane juice
- Corn sweetener
- Corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
- Fruit juice, fruit juice concentrate, fruit nectar
- Invert sugar
- Malt, malt syrup
- Maple syrup
- Raw sugar
- Sugar cane
- Anything ending in “ose” or “ol”
If you must use added sugar, aim for a natural source, such as raw honey, 100 percent pure maple syrup, raw sugar, Stevia and black strap molasses. Processed sugars often come in foods that have little nutritional value. They also break down in the body more rapidly than natural sugars and can cause spikes in blood sugar.