Sugar is sugar is sugar is sugar!

Many Names for Sugar

I just came back from three very full days of walking the show floor at Natural Products Expo West.  This is an enormous trade show, featuring thousands of “natural” product vendors and manufacturers. It’s so big that it takes up the entire Anaheim convention center. That’s five full-size convention halls, fully loaded. (Picture the size of the Detroit Auto Show circa 2006, and then double it.)

I want need to write more about the show, but it’s going to take some time to collect my thoughts. For now I’ll just say that, in my humble opinion, about 90% of the products at the show range from neutral to downright bad for you. I’d even argue that many of them aren’t anywhere close to “natural.” In other words, there’s a lot of healthwashing going on.

That’s not to say there aren’t fantastic companies at the show, too — there are! And if just 10% of the products at the show are indeed healthful, and are from companies that truly “walk the talk,” then there are a heck of a lot of great products out there. Indeed, I now have a huge stack of business cards from companies making truly healthful products that I’m genuinely excited about.

The main frustration I had at the show was that it seemed like sugar was in everything. Of course, most “natural” products don’t list the word “sugar” anywhere in the ingredients list — consumers hate that, of course.  Instead, they list various other types of refined, concentrated sources of sugar, like brown rice syrup or honey.

So with regards to sugar in manufactured foods, whether “natural” or not, here’s what you need to know.

1. Ingredients are Listed by Quantity

When reading the nutrition facts label, ingredients are listed in order of predominance by weight.  This means that the product contains more of the first ingredient than any other single ingredient. So if the ingredients are “oats, honey, peanut butter, water, salt” you know that there are more oats than honey in the product, even if only by a tiny margin.  However, it’s possible that if you combine the honey and peanut butter, they outweigh the oats.

2. The Tricky Part

Sugars can be listed under various names (since, strictly speaking, they’re different foods), so manufacturers will frequently use more than one type of sugar so they can move them further down the list.

For example, if the manufacturer decides to use honey and maple syrup as the sweeteners instead of just honey, the ingredients list might look more like this: “oats, peanut butter, honey, maple syrup,water, salt.”  It can be the same amount of sugar as the first example, but now they’ve gotten peanut butter moved up on the list (and sugar moved down).

3. Refined Sugar is Refined Sugar

Here’s where it gets really challenging: It can be really hard to spot those added sugars. Below I’ve compiled a list of the most common types of sugars. Don’ t let some of their healthy-sounding names fool you: REFINED SUGAR IS REFINED SUGAR!

(Sorry for yelling, but this has become a big pet peeve.)

I didn’t see any corn syrup at the show — manufacturers have wised up by now, of course. (It may be time to adjust my second rule). In its place, I often saw brown rice syrup, evaporated cane juice, and fruit juice concentrate.  And I can’t state it enough: I saw a lot of those.

This is not a complete list, but it covers the vast majority of them (if I missed any biggies, please share in the comments).  You’ll also see a few commonalities which can make some easier to spot: “Syrup,” “malt,” and anything ending in “-ose.”

  1. Brown Rice Syrup (this was by far the most common added sugar I saw at the show – I even saw one booth with a huge graphic, extolling brown rice syrup’s virtues!)
  2. Fruit Juice Concentrate
  3. Fruit Juice
  4. Sugar
  5. Invert Sugar
  6. Cane Sugar
  7. Cane Juice
  8. Evaporated Cane Juice
  9. Raw Cane Sugar
  10. Brown Sugar
  11. Beet Sugar
  12. Palm Sugar
  13. Date Sugar
  14. Coconut Sugar (I predict you’re going to be seeing this one a lot more often very soon)
  15. Barley Malt (Manufacturers love this one because it doesn’t have the words “syrup” or “sugar” in the name)
  16. Malt Syrup
  17. Rice Bran Syrup
  18. Corn Syrup
  19. Corn Syrup Solids
  20. High Fructose Corn Syrup
  21. Dextrose
  22. Maltodextrin
  23. Glucose
  24. Glucose Solids
  25. Fructose
  26. Sucrose
  27. Maltose
  28. Lactose
  29. Galactose
  30. Honey
  31. Maple Syrup
  32. Agave
  33. Sorghum Syrup
  34. Diastatic Malt
  35. Molasses
  36. Caramel
  37. Treacle
  38. Golden Syrup
  39. Panocha
  40. Muscovado Sugar
  41. Turbinado Sugar
  42. Demerara Sugar
  43. Sucanat
  44. Rapadura
  45. Jaggery
  46. Panela
  47. Monk Fruit / Luo Han Guo (Deserves a mention, since I saw it several times at the show. You’re probably going to see this one a lot in the next couple of years, too.)

4. A Note on “Organic”

Organic sugar is still sugar. Need I say more?

In Conclusion

Before anyone flames me in the comments, I’m not saying that sugar — in small amounts — isn’t okay to eat (I’m not going to use the word “moderation,” of course). But what I saw last weekend wasn’t small amounts — there was sugar in so many products, and it such high proportions, that it gives me great concern.  So remember to read those labels, and really consider what you’re eating.

A photo of Andrew Wilder leaning into the frame and smiling, hovering over mixing bowls in the kitchen.

Welcome to Eating Rules!

Hi! My name is Andrew Wilder, and I think healthy eating doesn’t have to suck. With just three simple eating rules, we'll kickstart your journey into the delicious and vibrant world of unprocessed food.

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March 15, 2012 11:40 am

can you tell me why honey and maple syrup are so bad? I have two kids who ingest far, far less sugar than the average child but I do make them cereal with maple syrup as (the) sweetner ingredient and I also make bread that has honey in it. Honey is not bad for you so what’s the deal? Am I missing something?

March 15, 2012 10:36 am

Thank you for the information. This will really look for all these sugars in these so called natrual foods.

March 15, 2012 10:12 am

I’ve read in several places that sugar substitutes have the same effects on the body as refined sugars and are not appropriate “replacements”. Often times, people quit one thing and replace it with something far worse. For those of us reading labels and trying to make heads and tails of the now 500+ names for sugar we should also be aware of the fake and replacement sugars, as those, in my opinion are far worse than regular old sugar. Is there a growing list of those, as well?

Jenna slate
March 15, 2012 8:19 am

Thank you! I’m amazed at how many things have some form of sugar in them! I am finding its almost impossible to find anything that doesn’t. Just started a whole foods, no sugar, nothing processed diet. Thought I bought a lot of things without any form of sugar in them. I was wrong when I looked at this list. Boy is this going to take some work! Eating healthy is time consuming but will be sooooo worth it! Thanks again!

March 15, 2012 8:15 am

Great post – thanks for sharing!

March 15, 2012 3:24 am

Been following your blog since I found you through the Urban Farm Handbook Challenge. Just wanted to say I love the information you have posted here about REAL food. I’m gluten intolerant, and have cut all sugars from my diet, along with all grains. Thanks for posting such an extensive list of sugars, the food companies really know how to hide them well. I feel much more prepared now.

March 14, 2012 10:22 pm

Well hallelujah!! I am so tired of people marketing unhealthy foods as healthful. A 10 pound bag of sugar is low fat and fructose sweetened cookies will still make your kids run in circles around the living room. This is why I think home cooking with whole foods is so important: at least you know exactly what is in your food and can control your portion sizes. Thank you for producing such an informative blog.

March 13, 2012 11:15 pm

I’ve been working my way through the last few boxes of processed foods in my pantry to make way for my whole food baking supplies, but reading your list of the myriad ways sugar can be worked into such products has led me shrink away from my pantry in distaste. I plan on gathering up all unopened packages and donating the non-perishables to my local food bank. While that is really only shifting the sugar consumption to someone else, I cannot yet bring myself to throw away the money I spent. Next time I cave to the allure of the pita chips, I’ll look at the kinds of sugar hiding inside!

March 13, 2012 6:31 pm

This is a great list! A couple of things. #12 & #14 Palm sugar and Coconut sugar are the same thing, so people should be aware of that. I think the reason “coconut sugar” is popping up more is that it sounds more “natural” than palm sugar, because it has the recognizable word “coconut” in it. Coconut seems to be taking the “health” world by storm, and I can only imagine it’s popularity growing. You did leave off the sugar “Sucanat” which is dehydrated cane juice. It also is sometimes referred to a rapadura, jaggery or panela depending on the origin of the country it comes from. Sucanat is actually the name brand for it. Finally I would hesitate to call #22 Maltodextrin a sugar. It’s a highly processed food additive that is often times used as a bulk agent or thickener. I definitely breaks down in your body to… Read more »

March 12, 2012 8:18 pm

thanks for that – I look forward to more information on what you found. With such a long list they could use such a variety that they would appear at the end of the list. It is time to wise up – they use sugar because sugar is addictive and it makes you want more!