Hidden in Plain Sight
June 17, 2021
Added sugar is hiding in 74% of packaged foods
We tend to think that added sugar is mainly found in desserts like cookies and cakes, but it's also found in many savory foods, such as bread and pasta sauce. And some foods promoted as "natural" or "healthy" are laden with added sugars, compounding the confusion. In fact, manufacturers add sugar to 74% of packaged foods sold in supermarkets.1 So, even if you skip dessert, you may still be consuming more added sugar than is recommended.
How do I know if I'm eating added sugar?
Added sugar is hiding in foods that many of us consider healthy, like yogurt and energy bars. It is also added to savory foods, such as ketchup, breads, salad dressing and pasta sauce.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires food producers to list all ingredients in their foods. But added sugar comes in many forms – which is why it's so hard to find on the ingredients label.2
There are at least 61 different names for sugar listed on food labels. These include common names, such as sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup, as well as barley malt, dextrose, maltose and rice syrup, among others.
While product labels list total sugar content, manufacturers are not required to say whether that total includes added sugar, which makes it difficult to know how much of the total comes from added sugar and how much is naturally occurring in ingredients such as fruit or milk. That makes it very difficult to account for how much added sugar we're consuming.2,3
How much is ok?Daily Added Sugar Limits Women: 6 tsp. (25g) Men: 9 tsp. (38g) Children: 3-6 tsp. (12-25g)
Unlike salt and fats that are added to foods, nutrition labels don't provide you with a daily reference value for added sugar.
However, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends no more than 9 teaspoons (38 grams) of added sugar per day for men, and 6 teaspoons (25 grams) per day for women.5 The AHA limits for children vary depending on their age and caloric needs, but range between 3-6 teaspoons (12 - 25 grams) per day.
Even "healthy" foods can be high in sugar
With as many as 11 teaspoons (46.2 grams) of added sugar in some 12-oz. sodas, a single serving exceeds the AHA recommendation for men and is about twice the allowance for women and children. But sugar isn't only in beverages and sweet baked goods. Here are some healthy-looking items you might find in the supermarket that also have high sugar contents:
- One leading brand of yogurt contains 7 teaspoons (29 grams) of sugar per serving.
- A breakfast bar made with "real fruit" and "whole grains" lists 15 grams of sugar.
- A single cup of bran cereal with raisins, in a box advertising "no high-fructose corn syrup," contains 20 grams of sugar per serving.
- A cranberry/pomegranate juice product, also advertising "no high-fructose corn syrup" and "100% Vitamin C," contains 30 grams of added sugar per 8 oz. serving. Some of the sugar is naturally occurring, but some of it has been added.
Changing labels to help consumers
Americans consume 57 pounds of added sugar each year, on average.
Making healthy food decisions requires having complete information on the food label. When sugars are hidden unrecognizably in most packaged foods, it's a difficult choice to make.
To address this, the FDA is considering revising the current label design, including changing the way a serving size is measured and possibly adding a separate line item highlighting the amount of added sugar.4
There is active discussion right now in public health circles about how to make nutrition labels easier to read and the need for clearer recommendations on how much added sugar is safe to consume. Stay tuned to SugarScience as we follow this discussion and interpret its impact for consumers.
61 Names for Sugar
- Agave nectar
- Barbados sugar
- Barley malt
- Barley malt syrup
- Beet sugar
- Brown sugar
- Buttered syrup
- Cane juice
- Cane juice crystals
- Cane sugar
- Carob syrup
- Castor sugar
- Coconut palm sugar
- Coconut sugar
- Confectioner's sugar
- Corn sweetener
- Corn syrup
- Corn syrup solids
- Date sugar
- Dehydrated cane juice
- Demerara sugar
- Evaporated cane juice
- Free-flowing brown sugars
- Fruit juice
- Fruit juice concentrate
- Glucose solids
- Golden sugar
- Golden syrup
- Grape sugar
- HFCS (High-Fructose Corn Syrup)
- Icing sugar
- Invert sugar
- Malt syrup
- Maple syrup
- Palm sugar
- Powdered sugar
- Raw sugar
- Refiner's syrup
- Rice syrup
- Sorghum Syrup
- Sugar (granulated)
- Sweet Sorghum
- Turbinado sugar
- Yellow sugar
- Ng, S.W., Slining, M.M., & Popkin, B.M. (2012). Use of caloric and noncaloric sweeteners in US consumer packaged foods, 2005-2009. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics , 112(11), 1828-1834.e1821-1826.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration, . (2004, November). How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label. Retrieved from http://www.fda.gov/food/ingredientspackaginglabeling/labelingnutrition/ucm274593.htm
- Sigman-Grant, M., & Morita, J. (2003, October). Defining and interpreting intakes of sugars. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition , 78(4), 815S-826S. doi:PMID: 14522745
- Food and Drug Administration, U.S. (2012, May 31). Agency Information Collection Activities; Proposed Collection; Comment Request; Experimental Study on Consumer Responses to Nutrition Facts Labels With Various Footnote Formats and Declaration of Amount of Added Sugars. Federal Register , 77, 32120-2. Retrieved from http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-05-31/pdf/2012-13141.pdf
- Johnson, R.K., Appel, L., Brands, M., Howard, B., Lefevre, M., Lustig, R., Sacks, F., Steffen, L., & Wyllie-Rosett, J. (2009, September 15). Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation , 120(11), 1011-20. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.109.192627. Retrieved from http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/120/11/1011.full.pdf