Are you trying to cut back on sugar? If so, it might seem easier said than done. Sugar, in its various forms, is ubiquitous in modern food production. In addition to pastries and sweets, plenty of packaged foods, condiments and even staples such as baked goods contain significant amounts.
Fortunately, a quick read of any nutrition label can tell you whether a food has enough sugar to cause concern. In addition to the total carbohydrate and sugar numbers, the ingredients list will say specifically which forms of sugar the product contains.
Still, the word “sugar” won’t always appear in the ingredients list – even for candies, cookies and other sweets. From high-fructose corn syrup to evaporated cane juice, there are plenty of other names for sugar. Some refer to the exact same substance we keep in our cabinets, while others denote different types entirely. The following are some of the other names you might see the next time you shop.
Glucose is what’s known as a monosaccharide – a single-molecule sugar. It’s the most basic form of energy for our bodies, and it’s found in virtually every carbohydrate-rich food. In fact, the starches found in potatoes, bread, rice and pasta are just long chains of glucose, which our bodies break apart during digestion.
In its pure form, glucose isn’t a very popular food additive. This is because it doesn’t taste as sweet as fructose or table sugar, even though it contains just as many carbs and calories. Because it digests so easily, however, it’s often used in sports drinks designed to provide quick energy for athletes.
Fructose is another monosaccharide naturally found in fruit, honey and nectars such as agave. In the United States, we most often find fructose in high-fructose corn syrup, a product manufactured by converting corn starch into sugars. Like glucose, fructose is rarely added to foods in its pure form. High-fructose corn syrup, on the other hand, is widely used because of its low cost and high shelf life.
What we often think of as “table” sugar or baking sugar is actually the chemical called sucrose. Sucrose is a disaccharide composed of one molecule each of fructose and glucose. It’s found in small amounts in many fruits and vegetables, and in much larger amounts in sugar cane and sugar beets. Prized for its great taste, sucrose has long been the sweetener of choice for many countries. If a label simply lists “sugar,” it’s likely referring to sucrose.
Like sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup is roughly half glucose and half fructose. However, there are plenty of “regular” corn syrups that don’t go through the processing step that produces fructose. Like all syrups, however, these products are still pure sugar, and they contain the same amounts of sugar per tablespoon. Regular corn syrup is 100 percent glucose, and while it doesn’t offer the great taste of other sugars, it is essential in producing the textures found in certain baked goods and candies.
Lactose is the primary sugar found in milk. It is a disaccharide, and like sucrose, it must be split apart before its individual parts can be used for energy. However, some people lack the enzyme necessary to make that split, and the deficiency is responsible for the indigestion associated with lactose intolerance.
While lactose lacks the flavor and sweetness of other sugars, it is used as an additive in other foods to prevent discoloration. Plus, even low-sugar dairy products such as butter and cheese also contain small amounts. While lactose isn’t a major concern for people cutting back on sugar, these trace amounts may cause indigestion if you’re severely intolerant.
Honey is sweeter than "table" sugar and depending upon its origin, may also contain small amounts of vitamins and minerals. If you’re on a low-sugar diet, however, you’ll need to moderate your intake of honey just as much as your consumption of table sugar, corn syrup and fruit juices.
Natural and organic grocery stores often sell products with “cane juice,” “evaporated cane juice” and “dehydrated cane juice” in their ingredients lists. Some people prefer these products because they aren’t made from corn, and because they aren’t as processed as traditional table sugar. Like any sugar cane product, however, cane juice is almost pure sucrose.
Monitoring Your Sugar Intake
High sugar consumption has been linked to diabetes and heart disease, and sugar-rich foods also tend to be calorically dense and easy to overeat. In moderation, however, any of these products can be a part of a healthy diet, and many forms of sugar are found naturally in fruits, vegetable and dairy products. If you’re trying to curb your sugar intake, keep these names in mind the next time you scan a nutrition label.
If you have or believe you are at risk for diabetes and wish to improve your health, explore the full range of Fisher-Titus diabetes and nutrition education.