Helping to identify hidden sugar

Helping to identify hidden sugar

Author -  Good Health

The trouble with sugar is that it can hide in foods where you would least expect it and to top it all off, it comes under many different names. Packaged foods are loaded with sugar, even though some of them may not even seem sweet!

Packaged foods such as; pre-packaged sauces (e.g. tomato and barbecue sauce), reduced-fat salad dressings, bread, crackers, baked beans, ready-made soups, flavoured coffees, hot chocolates, peanut butter and soft drinks, are just some of the examples of pre-packaged products with hidden, added sugar. For example, a can of soft drink can contain on average the equivalent of seven teaspoons of sugar!

The main cause of concern is the sugars that are added to food during manufacturing. Why are they added? Well, sugar makes food taste better (if it tastes better you are likely to want more!) and to some degree, helps improve and maintain food colour, texture and shelf life. Low fat products are often high in sugar to compensate for the lack of taste (which stems from the lack of fat).

We need some sugar in our diets as a source of energy to fuel our muscles and brain. The problem is that many processed foods have an unnecessary amount of added sugar, which does nothing nutritionally, but does add additional calories!

So what is the daily allowance of sugar? A recommendation by the World Health Organisation (WHO) states that only 5% of your daily calorie intake should consist of added sugars, which equates to approximately five-six teaspoons (25g) for women and seven-eight teaspoons (35g) for men.

A good way to determine how much sugar is in your food is to check the nutrition information panel on the label usually found on the back or side of the product packaging; some of it makes for surprising reading! There are many types of sugar, but to keep it simple, when reading labels the two key places to look on the nutritional panel are; 1. The amount of carbohydrates and 2. The amount of sugars.

Look at the carbohydrate content on the nutritional label and look under “sugars”; this will include both natural and added sugars. The important thing is that less than 5g per 100g is considered low and more than 15g per 100g is high. A teaspoon is 4g so if you read a label and it states 15g of sugar that is nearly 4 teaspoons!

Remember when reading an ingredient panel, sugar won’t always be called sugar – it comes under many different names; believe it or not there are over 50 types of sugar! 

 These are the most common ones to look out for:

  1. Corn sweetener, corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup
  2. Dextrose
  3. Fruit juice concentrates
  4. Maltose
  5. Rice malt syrup
  6. Barley malt
  7. Molasses
  8. Cane juice, cane juice crystals and cane syrup
  9. Sucrose
  10. Cane sugar, castor sugar, icing, demerara, muscovado and brown sugar
  11. Beet sugar
  12. Fructose
  13. Galactose
  14. Glucose
  15. Malt and golden syrup
  16. Caramel
  17. Date sugar
  18. Maple syrup
  19. Maltodextrin
  20. Invert sugar
  21. Treacle
  22. Agave syrup
  23. Sorbitol

A good tip to remember is that any food ingredient ending in 'ose', such as glucose, sucrose, fructose, lactose and maltose, contain added sugar. The higher up the ingredients list, the more sugar the product contains.

So next time you’re walking down the aisles in the supermarket take a closer look at those labels to help minimise your total sugar intake.

Join us next week when we discover some helpful tips for replacing sugar in your diet.


Not all products recommended may be available in South Africa at this time.

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Not all products recommended may be available in South Africa at this time