Understanding the Different Types of Sugar on Food Labels
There is much confusion about the many types of sugar, and even more confusion about how to look for these sugars on a food label. First, not all sugars are created equal. A few examples of sugars include lactose (milk sugar), sucrose (table sugar), and fructose (fruit sugar).
If sucrose causes gastrointestinal disturbances, you have more to consider than just table sugar. Sucrose is added to many processed and manufactured food products, and American supermarkets are filled with these products.
Pick up a processed food package and look first at the Nutrition Facts label. For example, check out Lower-Sugar Instant Oatmeal. One serving size equals one packet. Now scan down to the heading “Total Carbohydrate.” Below the “Total Carbohydrate” heading, the number of grams of fiber and the number of grams of sugar is listed. One packet of the oatmeal has four grams of sugar. Now the question is, “What type of sugar?”
Look just below the Nutrition Facts box at “Ingredients.” Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. That means the first ingredient weighs the most and the last ingredient weighs the least. The oatmeal ingredient label lists whole grain rolled oats first, but the second ingredient is sugar. The word “sugar” on an ingredient label means the same thing as table sugar, which we just learned above is sucrose. In this case, one packet of the lower-sugar oatmeal has four grams of sucrose.
Unfortunately, it gets trickier. Sucrose is not just indicated by the ingredient “sugar” or “table sugar.” Check out the Nutrition Facts label on a Trail Mix Chewy Granola Bar. The serving size is one bar, and just below Total Carbohydrate, sugars are listed as seven grams. Next, scan the long list of ingredients. The sugar-containing ingredients include brown rice syrup, invert cane syrup, dried cane syrup, cane syrup, and molasses, all of which contain varying amounts of sucrose.
Another point to remember is that different brands of oatmeal or granola bars may contain different types and amounts of sugar, so it’s important to constantly read food labels and compare products. Manufacturers often change the types of sugars they use based on the changing costs and availability of ingredients. So, remember to recheck labels often.
For more help with dietary sucrose avoidance, speak to a registered dietitian.