Decoding Food Labels: Differentiating Between Natural and Added Sugars

Understanding food labels can be a daunting task, especially when it comes to differentiating between natural and added sugars. The amount of sugar listed on a food label includes both natural and added sugars, making it difficult to determine how much of each type is in the product. However, with a little knowledge and practice, you can learn to decode these labels and make healthier choices. Let’s delve into the world of food labels and sugars.

What are Natural and Added Sugars?

Natural sugars are those found naturally in foods. For example, fructose is the sugar found in fruits, and lactose is the sugar in milk. On the other hand, added sugars are those that are added to foods during processing or preparation. They can come in many forms, including table sugar, honey, and high-fructose corn syrup.

How to Identify Added Sugars on Food Labels?

Starting from January 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has required food manufacturers to list added sugars separately from total sugars on food labels. This makes it easier for consumers to identify the amount of added sugars in a product. However, not all food manufacturers have made this change yet, so it’s still important to know how to identify added sugars.

  • Look for words like “syrup”, “sweetener”, and anything ending in “-ose” (like dextrose or fructose). These are all forms of added sugars.
  • Check the ingredients list. Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight, so if sugar is one of the first few ingredients, the product likely contains a significant amount of added sugar.

How to Determine the Amount of Natural Sugars?

Unfortunately, food labels do not currently provide a way to directly determine the amount of natural sugars in a product. However, you can make an educated guess by considering the other ingredients. For example, if a product contains fruit or milk, it will naturally contain some amount of sugar. You can also compare similar products. For example, unsweetened applesauce will contain only the natural sugars from the apples, while sweetened applesauce will contain added sugars.

Why is it Important to Differentiate Between Natural and Added Sugars?

While our bodies process natural and added sugars in the same way, foods with natural sugars often come with other nutrients, like fiber in fruit and protein in milk. On the other hand, foods with added sugars often provide calories without other nutritional benefits. Consuming too much added sugar can lead to health problems like obesity and heart disease. Therefore, it’s important to limit your intake of added sugars and choose foods with natural sugars when possible.

Decoding food labels can be a challenge, but with a little practice, you can become a pro at identifying natural and added sugars. This will help you make healthier choices and limit your intake of added sugars.