So, you want to know all about added sugar. What is it? How do you know it’s there? Is it bad for you? How sweet of you to ask!
We’re here to show you how to find added sugar on nutrition labels and keep your daily sugar intake in check.
In basic terms, sugar is a simple carbohydrate.
It can be made up of either one or two molecules — these monosaccharides and disaccharides show up in the foods we eat in a variety of ways.
You’ll find sugar in a variety of naturally grown foods like fruits, dairy products, and some vegetables. These sugars are considered “naturally occurring” since they’re inherently present in those foods. A raw sweet potato, for instance, contains about 6 grams of naturally occurring sugar per cup. It’s not called a sweet potato for no reason!
But with most packaged food products, more sugar is added during processing.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines these as “added sugars.” While it’s often used to achieve a sweeter taste, added sugar is also used to balance out flavors, improve texture, and preserve foods. Think of canned sweet potatoes — the sugary syrup they’re swimming in was added in by the manufacturer.
Yes, although this wasn’t the case until 2018.
Thankfully, the nutrition label we know and love experienced a recent glow-up, making added sugars easier than ever to find on food packaging.
We used to have to skim the “Ingredients” section for signs of sugar, like those sneaky syrups and words ending in -ose. While “Total Sugars” were, and still are, listed in grams, it was impossible to determine how many grams were added in.
The FDA rolled out an updated nutrition label in 2018. It follows a similar format but now includes “Added Sugars” as its own line item, right under “Total Sugars” in the carbohydrates section. There’s a percent Daily Value (%DV) figure listed for added sugar to help you see how your consumption stacks up against the recommended daily limits. Food manufacturers are now required to disclose these details on their nutrition labels. No more hiding!
You can still skim the ingredients section to see what kinds of sugar your favorite snacks contain. Sugar goes by a huge variety of names, from the obvious to the obscure. Here’s what you should look out for:
In moderation, it’s fine.
Despite the distinction between naturally occurring and added sugars, our bodies don’t actually mind where they come from. Glucose is glucose and fructose is fructose; whether your body retrieved the sugar molecules from a raisin or a piece of candy, it will digest them in the same way.
The issue is that many of us aren’t aware of just how much sugar we consume on a daily basis.
According to the FDA, the average American consumes at least 270 calories per day from added sugars. This is 35% more than the recommended limit of 200 calories per day (based on a 2,000-calorie diet), which equates to 50 grams of added sugar.
In setting this recommendation, the FDA observed that it’s “difficult to get the nutrients you need for good health while staying within calorie limits if you consume more than 10 percent of your total daily calories from added sugar.”
In other words, if you fill up on added sugar, you’ll either lose out on essential nutrients or exceed your daily caloric intake — not great either way. Some highly-processed foods containing a lot of added sugar may not offer much nutritional value. This new %DV is intended to help us keep an eye on our sugar intake so we don’t overdo it.
Look for foods containing naturally occurring sugar. Chances are, they’ll also be full of essential nutrients your body loves like protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They’ll help you feel more full and regulate how fast your body breaks down the sugars to keep your blood sugar levels steady.
A lot of highly processed foods contain chemically refined syrups, concentrates, and sweeteners.
But sugar also comes from natural sources like maple trees and honey bees. Dried fruits and fruit pastes, without added sugar, make great natural sweeteners as well. And, just a few drops of a pure extract like almond and vanilla can instantly satisfy a sweet tooth.
These are all best enjoyed in their original format without chemical meddling — look for 100% pure and organic products with no added sugar.
Not only are these natural sugars delicious, but unlike manufacturers’ mystery sugars, Mother Nature’s sugars actually offer nutritional value, too.
Our favorite natural sweetener, organic honey, contains trace amounts of a variety of nutrients. It’s got antioxidants, amino acids, inhibine (which serves an antibacterial function), and other vitamins and minerals including calcium, potassium, and riboflavin. If your food contains a dollop of organic honey instead of processed sugar, you may actually start to see the benefits add up.
In our Perfect Bars, honey works as a binding agent, preservative, and sweetener all in one. So there’s no need for artificial preservatives or refined sugars.
Next time your sweet tooth calls out to you, remember to check the added sugar contents and skim the ingredients. Bonus points if you see evidence of nature’s sweetest pollinators!