How to Differentiate between Total Sugars and Sugars Listed at Packaging

How to differentiate between total sugars and sugars listed on the packaging?

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word “sugar”? Well, it is a substance that makes any food sweet, but it is more than just a sweetener. Though sugary treats are often loved by people of all ages, these usually contain empty calories and should be consumed in moderation. So, it is important to learn the difference between total sugar and the sugar that is listed on the back of any food package.

Understand how simple sugar is different from added sugar

Sugar is a type of carbohydrate your body uses for energy and it is present in the natural form in fruits, vegetables, and dairy products.

Basically, we come across two types of sugars – naturally occurring sugars (simple sugars) found in fruits and milk products, and added sugars – sugars or sweeteners that are added to foods during processing. For example, added sugars are mostly found in desserts, sodas or aerated drinks, and energy and sports drinks.

Sugar is generally added to packaged foods in order to make them more appetizing, give them flavour, texture, and colour, for food preservation, for fuelling fermentation, and for balancing the acidity of food items.

Common types of sugars you can find in a product

It is very important to read food labels to understand the type and amount of sugar a food item contains. Typically, the nutrition label on a packaged food or drink displays the total sugar found in a serving of the product. The total sugar includes both natural and added sugars.

So, watch out for the following added sugar names on a food label:

  • Corn syrup - It is made from corn and is almost 100% glucose.
  • Fructose - Fructose is a simple sugar usually present in honey, fruits and root vegetables. It is added to foods and drinks in the crystalline form. Often, it is used as a sweetener for people with diabetes. However, its excessive use might have a negative effect on blood lipids.
  • High-fructose corn syrup - It is a mixture of glucose and fructose, which is produced from corn. It is 55% fructose and 45% glucose.
  • Lactose - This is found naturally in milk and is a disaccharide (one galactose and one glucose unit).
  • Maltose - It is usually found in molasses and is used for fermentation. It is also a disaccharide (two glucose units).
  • Sucrose - It is known as white sugar and is found in fruits and vegetables, especially in sugarcane and sugar beets. It is also a disaccharide, composed of equal parts of glucose and fructose.

Harmful effects of added sugars

Added sugars can cause many health-related problems like obesity, heart disease, and can also increase cancer risk. Other health-related problems that might arise from intake of high amounts of added sugars are:

  1. Poor nutrition: Sweetened food items, especially soda drinks, have zero nutritional value. In fact, they only add extra sugar and calories to your diet.
  2. Weight gain: Added sugars make foods calorie-dense and consuming extra calories can result in weight gain and obesity.
  3. Increased triglycerides: Consuming excessive amounts of added sugars can increase triglyceride levels in the body. This might increase the risk of heart diseases.
  4. Dental caries: Excessive intake of added sugars can lead to tooth decay as they allow bacterial growth. By eating sugary foods and not following a proper oral hygiene routine, you are more likely to develop cavities.

Limiting sugar for children

Experts suggest that kids below 2 years of age should not be given added sugars in any form. And children older than 2 years of age should not be given more than 25 g of added sugar per day, as per WHO’s suggestion. While it is alright to occasionally indulge in candies, pastries or cookies, regular or excessive intake can pose a problem.