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Identifying & Avoiding Sugar in Packaged Foods

Identifying & Avoiding Sugar in Packaged Foods

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 sometimes hidden in certain packaged foods that you may not expect – here’s how to identify it.

When we talk about "added sugar", we mean sugar that has been added to a food product in addition to the sugars that occur in it naturally.

Natural sugars (for instance, lactose in milk and fructose in fruit) are usually not a problem because they come in small doses and are packed together with other nutrients, which help slow absorption.

Although natural sugars can certainly cause tooth decay, they are not nearly as problematic as refined sugar, because this is processed and absorbed immediately, and is often present in much larger quantities than natural sugars are.

Many people think that avoiding candy, cakes, pop, chocolate bars and the like will be enough to cut out the bulk of added sugar in their diets. But while this does help a lot, it's more complicated than that.

There is added sugar a lot of packaged foods that you wouldn’t expect. Everything from crackers and salad dressing to pasta sauce, bbq sauce, instant oatmeal, and baby food might all have added sugar lurking in the ingredients list.

And because sugar is rarely just listed as “sugar” in ingredient labels, it can sometimes be hard to tell if a product contains any added sugar or not. On any given ingredient label, sugar may appear under many names — more than 50, in fact.

And to complicate matters further, nutrition labels  don't really make it clear how much sugar has been added to the product, because they often 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 given nutrition label, the total amount of sugar per 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, which is a good start. It will show the amount of sugar in grams, as well as the percentage that this 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 an ingredient appear, the more of it there is in the product. So if you see sugars listed among the first few ingredients, you may want to avoid that 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. If you have time, it can help to look up 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 North Delta children’s dentists any time for more information.

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