Reading the label: identify the different kinds of sugar

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The sharp increase of sugar in the average person’s diet has become the centre of a huge debate about health and nutrition.

As scientists continue to establish links between sugar and obesity, diabetes and a myriad of other health concerns, we’re left with the sometimes difficult task of trying to reduce sugar in our diets.

The trouble isn’t necessarily with cakes and pastries – though a nice indulgence, most people can easily avoid desserts and other obviously sugary treats and save them for an occasional treat.

The trouble comes when you start browsing the isles of your local supermarket – processed foods are often filled with sugar, and food manufacturers are finding clever ways to hide sugar in plain view by using different forms of the familiar sweet substance we all know and love. If you need help to find ways to cut sugar from your diet, a good place to start is the NHS website, which has an extensive section on sugar.

What to watch for

Reading food labels is an important part of cutting down your sugar intake, and though the information might seem a little daunting at first, doing it regularly will help you cut down on your sugar intake. Look for the “Carbohydrates (of which sugars)” line on the nutrition label – this will tell you how much is in each serving of what you’re buying.

Ingredients are often listed in order of how much they are used in a recipe – so if sugar is one of the first ingredients listed you know there is a high amount of sugar added to that food.

Different names for the same thing

Just because you don’t see “sugar” on the label doesn’t mean it isn’t there. As a rule of thumb, words like syrup, sweetener and any word ending with “ose” typically is another word for sugar. Some words to watch out for include…

  • Sucrose
  • Glucose
  • Fructose
  • Maltose
  • Hydrolysed starch
  • Corn syrup or high-fructose corn syrup
  • Dextrin or Maltodextrin
  • Dextrose
  • Fruit juice concentrate

Sugar free can be just as confusing. Many sugar free foods have sugar alcohols in them or artificial ingredients to make them sweet, and in many cases these are as bad as or worse than sugar. Some to watch for:

  • Maltitol
  • Sorbitol
  • Isomalt
  • Xylitol


Do you read food labels looking for sugar?

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