Recognizing added sugar

Identifying added sugars can be confusing. Most people look at the Nutrition Facts part of the label for the total number of grams of sugar in a serving of the product. It's important to realize, however, that the amount shown includes natural sugars found in certain ingredients, such as grain, fruit and milk. The only reliable way to identify added sugars is to look at the ingredient list.

Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. If you see sugar listed among the first few ingredients, the product is likely to be high in added sugars.

Currently the Food and Drug Administration is considering updating the Nutrition Facts label to help clarify how much sugar is added to foods.

Different names for added sugar

Sugar goes by many different names, depending on its source and how it was made. This can also make it hard to identify added sugars, even when you read ingredient lists and food labels.

Check for ingredients ending in "ose" — that's the chemical name for many types of sugar, such as fructose, glucose, maltose and dextrose. Here's a list of other common types of added sugars:

  • Cane juice and cane syrup
  • Corn sweeteners and high-fructose corn syrup
  • Fruit juice concentrate and nectars
  • Honey
  • Malt syrup
  • Molasses

Despite what you may have heard, there's no nutritional advantage to honey, brown sugar, fruit juice concentrate or other types of sugar over white sugar.

How to reduce added sugar in your diet

To reduce the added sugars in your diet, try these tips:

  • Drink water or other calorie-free drinks instead of sugary sodas or sports drinks. That goes for coffee drinks, too.
  • When you drink fruit juice, make sure it's 100 percent fruit juice — not juice drinks that have added sugars. Better yet, eat the fruit rather than drink the juice to get the fiber, as well.
  • Choose breakfast cereals with less sugar. Skip sugary and frosted cereals.
  • Opt for reduced-sugar varieties of syrups, jams, jellies and preserves.
  • Choose fresh fruit for dessert instead of cakes, cookies, pies, ice cream and other sweets.
  • Buy canned fruit packed in water or juice, not syrup. Drain and rinse with water to remove excess syrup.
  • Snack on vegetables, fruits, low-fat cheese, whole-grain crackers and low-fat, low-calorie yogurt instead of candy, pastries and cookies.

The final analysis

By limiting the amount of added sugars in your diet, you can cut calories without compromising nutrition. In fact, cutting back on foods with added sugars and solid fats may make it easier to get the nutrients you need without exceeding your calorie goal.

Take this easy first step: Next time you're tempted to reach for a soda or other sugary drink, grab a glass of ice-cold water instead.

Jan. 24, 2016 See more In-depth