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Identifying & Avoiding Sugar in Packaged Foods

Identifying & Avoiding Sugar in Packaged Foods

We all know that sugar is one of the main culprits when it comes to tooth decay, and many of us try to avoid it for that reason. But sugar is hiding in some unexpected packaged food – here’s how to identify it.

Added sugar is sugar that has been added to a food product in addition to the sugars that occur naturally in it.

Natural sugars (such as lactose in milk and fructose in fruit) are not typically a problem because they come in small doses and are packed together with other nutrients, which helps slow absorption.

Though natural sugars can certainly cause tooth decay, they are not nearly as problematic as the refined stuff, which is processed and absorbed immediately, and often present in much larger quantities than natural sugars are.

Many people think that by simply avoiding candy, cakes, pop, chocolate bars and the like, they can cut out the bulk of added sugar in their diets.

In fact, added sugar is present in many packaged foods that you wouldn’t expect. Everything from crackers and salad dressing to pasta sauce, bbq sauce, instant oatmeal, and baby food can all have added sugar lurking in the ingredients list.

This is not always obvious, as sugar is rarely just listed as “sugar” in ingredient labels. On any given ingredient label, sugar may appear under many names — more than 50, in fact.

And to complicate matters further, nutrition labels are rarely clear about the amount of sugar that has been added to the product, and typically list naturally present sugar in combination with added sugar.

So, how are parents to know which foods have lots of added sugar, and which are the healthier options?

There are a few ways to get a better idea of the how much added sugar there is in a given product, and what to avoid:

1) Look at the total sugars on the nutrition label.

On a nutrition label, the total amount of sugar per a given portion or serving will be listed. This will include the natural sugars as well, but it will tell you the total amount of sugar you’re dealing with. It will show the amount of sugar in grams, as well as the percentage that his amount of sugar is of the daily recommended amount.

2) Look at the ingredients list.

The ingredients list will show the different types of sugar present in the product. Pay close attention to the order of ingredients on the list. The higher up on the list that sugars appear, the more sugar there is in the product.

3) Know the different names for sugar.

Here are some of the names that sugar may appear under on a food label:

  • fructose
  • lactose
  • maltose
  • anhydrous dextrose
  • brown sugar
  • cane crystals
  • cane sugar
  • corn sweetener
  • corn syrup
  • corn syrup solids
  • crystal dextrose
  • evaporated cane juice
  • fructose sweetener
  • fruit juice concentrates
  • high-fructose corn syrup
  • honey
  • liquid fructose
  • malt syrup
  • maple syrup
  • molasses
  • pancake syrup
  • raw sugar
  • sugar, syrup
  • white sugar
  • carbitol
  • concentrated fruit juice
  • corn sweetener
  • diglycerides
  • disaccharides
  • evaporated cane juice
  • erythritol
  • Florida crystals
  • fructooligosaccharides
  • galactose
  • glucitol
  • glucoamine
  • hexitol
  • inversol
  • isomalt
  • maltodextrin
  • malted barley
  • malts
  • mannitol
  • nectars
  • pentose
  • raisin syrup
  • ribose rice syrup
  • rice malt
  • rice syrup solids
  • sorbitol
  • sorghum
  • sucanat
  • sucanet
  • xylitol
  • zylose


To help you along, keep this list handy while you shop, and look up any ingredients you’re not familiar with on your phone, too.

4) Compare products.

Look at the different brands that produce the product you’re looking for, and choose the one with the least sugar in it whenever possible.

By following the advice above, you can better control the amount of sugar in your kids’ diets. Please feel free to contact our Burnaby children’s dentists any time for more information.

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