And while the maximum daily amount of added sugar for men should be no more than 37.5 grams (9 teaspoons) and for women it should not exceed 25 grams (6 teaspoons), 1 protein bar can contain as much as 30 grams (7.5 teaspoons) of added sugars, which is over the daily recommended allowance for women. Let’s investigate how it is possible for companies to sell you junk food under the premise of healthy food, and how you can use food labels to make smart purchasing decisions that would promote and not harm your health.
1. They Use a Different Word For Sugar
When you want to find out how much sugar a product contains, let’s say, a box of cereal, you usually look at the back of a cereal box and scan the ingredients list for keywords like sugar, sucrose, glucose, and fructose. If you don’t find those, or find them in the middle or at the end of the ingredients list, which means that there isn’t a lot of it in the product, you make the conclusion that it’s a healthy choice, right?
Well, not entirely, as many companies nowadays use many “alternative” names for sugar in an attempt to deceive a consumer that is used to scan the ingredients list before purchasing a certain product. Here is a list of such alternative names that you should watch out for when it comes to powdered added sugar.
Added sugar is also often used in syrup form rather than powdered form, in which case they commonly appear as the following ingredients on nutrition labels.
2. Adding Sugar to Things That Aren’t Sweet
You would expect to see added sugar appearing as an ingredient on a box of cookies, but not so much on a can of tomato sauce, salad dressings, and soups. The truth is that humans simply love sweet food because our brains run on sugar and it’s addictive, and for companies, it’s a cheap way of making a product tastier for consumers.
Unfortunately, all of the foods we mentioned above can actually contain a lot of sugar, which adds up and can be the culprit behind excess sugar consumption. For example, 100 grams of some ketchups can contain as much as 38 grams of sugar, which is higher than the daily allowance for men. That’s why it is always important to always check the sugar content of a product, be it sweet or savory.
3. Adding Health-Related Claims on Product Packaging
You’re better off completely ignoring claims like natural, zero, healthy, low-fat, diet, and light that often appear on the packaging of products. Instead, look directly at the label and analyze the ingredient list. These products are often lower in fat, calories, and sugar, but they’re often way too abundant in sugars.
4. Using So-Called “Healthy” Sugars
Certain products use labels like refined sugar-free or contains no refined sugar. What these labels mean, however, is that a product doesn't contain white sugar. While it may be true that these so-called “healthy” sugars have a slightly lower glycemic index (GI), they still have little to no additional nutrients compared to whole foods and, at the end of the day, they are still added sugars. A list of popular sugars marketed as healthier can be found in the picture below.
The bottom line is that like white sugar, fructose or corn syrup, these sugars should not exceed the overall amount of 37.5 g for men and 25 g for women. So, it doesn’t matter if you consume 25 g of white sugar, or 10 g of coconut sugar, 10 g of agave syrup and 5 g of honey as a woman, both equal your daily recommended amount. That doesn’t mean that you cannot choose these alternatives, but remember that they are just as damaging to your health as any other sugar.
5. Using a Few Types of Sugar
As we mentioned previously, ingredients appear in any ingredients list according to their amounts in a product, so the first ingredient is usually the most abundant one, whereas there will be very little of the last ingredient on the list. Companies learned to take advantage of this regulation and often use several types of sugar in smaller amounts, which makes them appear lower on the ingredients list.
This can trick a consumer into believing that there is very little sugar in the product. So, if you see a few different types of sugar in the middle or at the end of the list, know that the added amount of all these sugars may be way higher than you expect. For example, if you look at the picture below, you will see that this cereal uses a variety of sweeteners, such as sugar, honey, and brown sugar syrup that appear in different places on the list.
6. Not Distinguishing Between Naturally-Occurring and Added Sugars
There is a difference between eating an orange and drinking a glass of soda, even if both of these products contain a lot of sugar. While products containing added sugars, like a glass of soda, do not contain anything apart from whatever is listed on the packaging, whole foods are packed full with fiber, vitamins, antioxidants and essential nutrients that not only mitigate the damage caused by the sugar they contain, but improve your health.
Ingredient labels don’t distinguish between the added and naturally-occurring sugars, but you should keep in mind that choosing whole, unprocessed foods is always better.
7. Changing the Nutritional Facts With Time
If you know that a specific brand makes a great low-sugar product, don’t assume it applies to comparable products by the same brand. It is often the case that a similar product, but with a different flavor or simply one that is sold in a different country will not have the same nutritional content the original did.
It is also often the case that brands change the content of their products when they update the packaging, so always be critical of any changes or variations in the product you know is good, as it may actually turn out to be not so low in sugar.
8. Check the Serving Size
The last, but definitely crucial line in the nutrition facts portion of a product is the serving size. Food companies often manipulate the serving size of a product, making it too small to be realistic, but this makes the product look like it’s not that high in sugar. So, for example, 1 small can of soda that even a child can gulp down in a matter of seconds often contains multiple servings, which means that by drinking the whole thing you’re actually consuming double or triple the amount of sugar mentioned on the packaging. Be careful and make smart food purchases.