If you see these sweeteners on a food label, remember that they are still sugar and should be eaten sparingly.
Bottom Line: Food manufacturers sometimes replace white table sugar with unrefined or “raw” sugar. This can make the product appear healthier, but unrefined sugar is still sugar.
5. Combining Added Sugars With Natural Sugars on the Ingredients List
Certain foods, such as fruit, vegetables and dairy products, contain naturally occurring sugars. Unlike added sugar, these aren’t really a health concern.
This is because naturally occurring sugars are difficult to eat in large amounts. Additionally, eating whole foods that contain them provides other beneficial nutrients.
For example, a cup of milk contains 3 teaspoons (13 grams) of sugar. Yet you also get 8 grams of protein and around one-quarter of your daily requirements for calcium and vitamin D (11).
The same size serving of Coke contains nearly twice the amount of sugar and no other nutrients (12).
One of the problems with food labels is that they don’t list how much of the sugar in a product is added sugar and how much is natural sugar. They combine all the sugar together and list it as a single amount.
This makes it really tricky to identify how much sugar is found naturally in the food and how much is added.
Unfortunately, there is no foolproof way to identify how much sugar in food comes from added sugar.
Bottom Line: Added and naturally occurring sugars are often listed together on food labels. For this reason, it can be hard to work out how much sugar comes from harmful added sugar.
6. Adding a Health Claim to Products
It’s not always easy to tell which products on the shelf are healthy and which are not.
Food manufacturers often put health claims on the front of foods. This can make some foods seem like a healthy choice, when in fact they are full of added sugar.
The most common examples of this are in products that are labeled as “healthy,” “low-fat,” “diet” or “light.”
These products are indeed often lower in fat and calories than the regular versions. However, food manufacturers often add more sugar to make them taste good.
Bottom Line: Products with health claims such as low-fat, diet or light can have more sugar than the regular versions.
7. Having a High Number of Servings per Pack
Food packaging often comes with nutrition information prominently displayed per 3.5 ounces (100 grams) and also per portion.
A common trick in the food industry is to make the listed portion size really small.
Usually, this means there may be several servings in a packet.
The amount of sugar in each of these small servings might appear low when, in fact, most people would eat two or three times that amount in one serving.
To avoid this trap, look at the portion size listed and the total weight of the product.
If there are lots of servings for a small amount of food, you might mean end up eating more sugar than you had planned.
Bottom Line: Food manufacturers can make products seem like they contain less sugar than they do by listing small portion sizes.
8. Making Sweet Versions of a Low-Sugar Brand
You might know that some of your favorite brands of foods are quite low in sugar.
However, food manufacturers sometimes piggyback on an established brand and release a new version that contains way more sugar.
This is quite common with breakfast cereals, where a whole-grain cereal that’s low in sugar may appear with added flavors or different ingredients.
This can confuse people who assume that the new version is just as healthy as their usual choice.
Bottom Line: Brands of food that are low in sugar can have other products that are much higher in sugar. This attracts loyal customers who may not realize the new version isn’t as healthy as the original.
Take Home Message
Added sugar can be really hard to spot.
The easiest way to avoid added sugar is to cook most of your food at home and avoid highly processed foods.
That said, not all convenience foods are unhealthy or contain lots of added sugar.
If you’re buying pre-packed foods, make sure you learn how to spot added sugar on food labels.