In recent years we have become more aware of just how much sugar we are consuming. More of us than ever are checking out the labels on our foods before we buy or tuck in. But have you ever wondered why sometimes something sweet doesn’t have any ‘sugar’ in it? That’s because it’s sugar in disguise. There are currently 61 names for sugar which are used in common food labelling, so you could well be eating sugar without even realising it.
Food labels have to list ingredients in order of the quantity and if they used only those ingredients with sugar in the name it would appear in the top few ingredients, putting off buyers who are more sugar aware. It makes more sense to add smaller amounts of several different sugars so that they appear further down the ingredients listing. So instead of 60g of sugar of a 100g item – which would make sugar the top ingredient on the label – it’s more savvy to use 10g of six different types of sugar and use their often less familiar name. This way another ingredient looks like the main one. When in fact it’s sugar at the top of the list.
Put simply sugar is added to lots of processed foods to make it taste better. Our brains are conditioned to seek out high sugar and high fat foods from when we were cavemen and food was scarce. In such situations these foods would be necessary to keep us going and harder to find. Now we are surrounded by such opportunities! While it might be a treat for our taste buds, high sugar foods are no good for our health. But sugar is a cheap and easy way to improve the flavour of foods and is used even in savoury meals.
There is no such thing as ‘healthy’ sugar as all will cause a spike in our blood sugar levels, some more than others though. Sugars can be divided into two types – glucose and fructose. Although they are both common and in some cases the sugar in question can be a combination of both, these have very different effects on our bodies.
Glucose can be metabolized by nearly every cell in the body while in contrast fructose is metabolised almost entirely in the liver. This stress on the liver is why many studies have found high fructose consumption to be the reason for a variety of health problems.
In recent years we have begun to view unprocessed sugars as healthy and many of these are fructose based. For example, agave nectar is actually 70-90% fructose so could argued to be worse for us than traditional sugar which is 50% glucose and 50% fructose.
Before you completely cut fruit from your diet it’s important to remember that naturally sweet whole foods are not the biggest challenge to our health. Dairy and vegetables also contain naturally occurring sugars but this is balanced by proteins, fiber, vitamins and minerals. It’s the sugar which is added to our foods which scientists and researchers see as a threat to our health and which we should try and avoid.
Identifying the amount of sugar in your food can be hard when there are so many different names for them. But when you take a look at the ingredients in future it’s worth looking not a the top couple but also the number which you can’t easily identify as these could be sugar in disguise. So you can be aware of what you are really eating, we have listed the 61 names which can be used for different types of sugar.