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Looking for Sugar on the Food Label

Hello Villagers.
Reading a food label in general can be a little tricky, but if you’re trying to figure out just how much added sugar you or your child is getting from a food, it’s downright impossible. There is a lot of confusion around sugar, making it difficult to make smart food choices for ourselves and our children. But before we delve into finding sugar on the food label, I think it’s important to note that not all sugar is evil (which is how it’s commonly portrayed). We find sugar naturally in many of our foods, fruit, milk, yogurt, grains, and some of our vegetables. Eating these foods provides us with energy to live our lives and a host of other nutrients as well. But these days, sugar is all too frequently added to the processed foods we eat and problems can occur when we eat too much of this added sugar.
Currently (here in 2017 for those of you reading this later), the sugar section on the label combines both the naturally occurring sugar and the added sugar.  Unless you happen to know the manufacturer recipe or have memorized the amounts of naturally occurring sugar found in various foods, we have to look elsewhere to determine if a product is high in added sugar. Lucky for us, the food manufacturers are required to list all ingredients used in the food product, and these are listed by the amounts present in the food from greatest to least.
Sugar ingredients


When debating whether or not you want to purchase a food item for your child or comparing similar products, take a look at the ingredient list. If sugar or a sweetener is at the top of the ingredient list, then you may want to consider putting that product back on the shelf. If there are no added sugars, or it is towards the bottom of the list, it’s going to be the better option. Unfortunately, sugar comes in many forms in our foods. Here are a few of the ingredients to look for: corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, invert sugar, malt syrup, raw sugar, sucrose, sugar syrup, cane crystals, crystalline fructose, evaporated cane juice, corn syrup solids and malt syrup. Whew! We have our work cut out for us!
Reviewing ingredients is best when you are comparing similar products, apples to apples if you will. Let’s take moment to literally compare apples to apples. Below you’ll find two mango flavored applesauces. The product on the left contains double the amount of TOTAL sugar, but remember that both apples and mangos are fruit and contain natural sugars. If we look at the ingredients on the left, you’ll see that almost 1/3 of the small ingredient list is some form of sugar (high fructose corn syrup and sugar); whereas the product on the right does not have any added sugar, making it the healthier purchase for your family.



The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently made changes to our food label that will make it much easier to figure all of this out. Food manufacturers must make the amounts of added sugars known on the label. We’ll start to see these new labels in June of 2018. Some smaller companies will have and extended time from to roll out the changes, so use the ingredient trick until then!

Nutrition Facts Label - What's Different

Jessica Barnes, PhD, RDN, LD

Dr. Jessica Barnes received her PhD in nutrition from Texas Woman's University. Her research focused on food preference development and creating materials to help preschoolers become familiar with healthy foods. She has worked with families and communities as a clinical and community Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.

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