Sugar's Many Names
What to look for when you're scanning nutrition labels
How much sugar Americans consume is at direct odds with how much they should eat: Per the American Heart Association, women should consume no more than 100 calories per day in sugar, which equates to about 6 teaspoons or 24 grams. And for men, that’s 150 calories per day, or about 9 teaspoons or 36 grams. But, according to the University of California’s sugar research website, Sugar Science, the average American consumes 19.5 teaspoons (or 82 grams) of sugar every day.
Since excess sugar can lead to weight gain, high cholesterol, and other health problems, people are increasingly turning to substitute sweeteners and 'light' foods. In recent years, for example, the sugar alcohol erythritol has become a common ingredient in low-calorie foods. But according to a recent study, researchers at Cornell University found that erythritol leads to an increase in fat mass, dispelling the previous assumptions that it couldn't be metabolized, or even produced in the human body.
On nutrition labels, there are at least 61 different names that sugar can hide behind. "Look for words like ‘syrup (e.g. organic cane syrup)’ or words that end in ‘ose (e.g. glucose),’” says Janis Isaman, R.D., owner of Calgary-based nutrition and fitness coaching center, My Body Couture.
Here, what you need to know about six sources.
Dextrose is a simple sugar that is made from corn and is chemically identical to glucose. Faisal Tawwab M.D., of Multicare Physicians in Lake Mary, Florida, notes that because it's a simple sugar the body can use it quickly and easily for energy. "Combined with other drugs, it can be given to patients intravenously to provide nutrition and as a fast way to increase their blood sugar levels," he explains.
Where it's found: some cured meats, sports drinks, baking goods (it makes dough brown), and candy. It's also used to stabilize food coloring and to extend the shelf life of many packaged foods.
HFCS (High-Fructose Corn Syrup)
HFCS (high-fructose corn syrup) is a sweetener made from corn that is composed of either 42 percent or 55 percent fructose, with the remaining sugars being primarily glucose. You've probably heard of it but the acronym can trip people up. “It has a high glycemic index,” says Keith Kantor, Ph.D., a food scientist based in Atlanta. “Some research has shown it to be extremely addictive compared to any other sources of sugar,” he notes.
Where it's found: Some sweetened yogurts, salad dressings, juices, candy, and processed foods
Fructose “in its natural form is often seen as ‘the good guy,’ as it is found in fruit,” says Katharina Kaiser, nutrition specialist at Freeletics in Munich, Germany. However, the reason fruits are healthy and easily digestible is because they also contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, trace elements and antioxidants. Fructose in its synthetic form is a main ingredient in high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which is hidden in many processed foods. “When compared against glucose, fructose not only turns into fat much quicker than HFCS, but it also lacks satiety, which means you'll feel less satisfied after a meal,” she adds.
Where it's found: Dried fruits, mangos, grapes, bananas, and pears are contain the highest natural concentrations. It can also be found in packaged foods.
Dextrin is a sugar composed of glucose molecules linked in chains. "It's absorption is slower than simple sugar and it's a dietary fiber, which has many health benefits including improving intestinal flora, constipation, and reducing blood sugar. Based on these health benefits, it is better than regular sugar,” says Kantor.
Where it's found: Dietary supplements and as a thickener for sauces and soups
Malto is derived from and another name for maltodextrin, says Kantor. “This is a great example of deceptive labeling tactics that food manufactures use to manipulate consumers into buying their products,” adds Scott Schreiber, M.D., LDN, a licensed nutritionist in Newark, Delaware. Maltodextrin is dextrin-containing malt sugar. It is used as a food additive and preservative in many processed foods. “It could spike blood sugar and depress the growth of healthy probiotics,” says Kantor, who explains that it can be chemically altered to be as sweet as glucose or have no taste at all.
Where it's found: Many 'light' products use it to decrease the fat content but still give it a similar consistency. It's also in some types of jerky, chips, and beer.
Mannose (D-Mannose) is a sugar that is found in high amounts in fruits and also has some medicinal properties. “It’s a sugar that is used to treat urinary tract infections,” says Schreiber. Clinical trials have shown that D-mannose powder was able to significantly reduce the risk of recurrent UTI infections. “It prevents bacteria from adhering to the walls of the intestinal tract. Mannose is not absorbed as fast as glucose and is secreted via the urine."
Where it's found: Fruits such as cranberries, apples, peaches, berries, and oranges