The Lowdown on Sugar

Sugar—a sweet temptation that finds its way into almost every corner of our modern diet. While indulging in a sugary treat now and then can be delightful, the growing prevalence of hidden sugars in our everyday foods has raised concerns about their impact on our health. 

Understanding the different names sugar hides behind on food labels is crucial for making informed choices for our well-being. From decoding nutrition labels to revealing lesser-known aliases for sugar, we are prepared to equip you with the tools you need to take charge of your sugar intake and embark on a path toward a healthier and more informed lifestyle. So, let’s dive in and uncover everything you need to know about this sweet food ingredient. 

What is Sugar?

By definition, sugar is “any of numerous sweet, colorless, water-soluble compounds present in the sap of seed plants and the milk of mammals.” Sugars also form the simplest group of carbohydrates.  Notice that part of the definition says ‘numerous,’ which indicates that there are many different types of sugars out there. While we won’t go over every single type today, there are a few common ones that you should be aware of.  


This is probably the most common type of sugar in most people’s diets, mainly because it is often used to sweeten many of the foods and beverages we enjoy daily. Sucrose is also known as ‘table sugar’ because it is the main component found in white sugar. With that being said, sucrose is naturally produced by many plants, including things like apples, carrots, and oranges. Sucrose is derived from sugarcane or sugar beets and is known to be a disaccharide (it contains 2 or more molecules) that is made of a 50/50 combination of glucose and fructose, but more about those in a second. What are the common food items that contain sucrose? Soda, juices, processed meat, processed breakfast cereal, pastries, candy, and even ketchup.


This is what is called a monosaccharide, the simplest carbohydrate around. While it’s common to think that all sugars are “bad,” the fact of the matter is that glucose is actually very important as it’s your body’s main source of energy. After ingestion, your body quickly starts to break down glucose and other nutrients in the body before they are further broken down by enzymes further along your digestive tract. After glucose is extracted during this process, it is carried through your bloodstream and sent to various cells throughout your body so they can use it as energy. Some of the most common food sources of glucose include bread, pastries, and potatoes. 


Fructose is another monosaccharide and is commonly known as ‘fruit sugar’ because it is most commonly found in fruits, although it is present in many vegetables, honey, and sugarcane as well. While fructose is one of the components that make up sucrose, by itself it is quite a bit sweeter than table sugar, which is why it is commonly crystallized and used to sweeten processed foods and beverages.  Be careful not to confuse fructose with high fructose corn syrup though. The latter does contain fructose, but it also contains glucose as well. Unlike glucose, fructose doesn’t have to be broken down by insulin but is actually metabolized by the liver instead. 

Natural vs Added Sugars

Most food labels will differentiate between natural and added sugars, so it’s important to know the difference. Thankfully, there is a clue right in their names. Natural sugars are those that are naturally found in plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Added sugars on the other hand are those that are added to the food while it is being processed or prepared, such as when you add sugar to your tea or when cereal manufacturers add sugar to their mixture. 

Common Names of Sugar

Now that you know the scientific names of the various types of sugar, you may be surprised to learn that there are over 56 types or common names of sugar that we interact with daily! Let’s try and sort through this sweet clutter without getting ourselves in too deep. For starters, there are a few different categories of sugars we can look at:

  • Those that contain only glucose
  • Those that contain both fructose and glucose 
  • Those that are solid (or granulated)
  • Those that are liquid (or syrup)

Let’s touch on a few common examples of what you may see on food labels for sugars in each of these categories. 

  • Sugars with only glucose may be listed as glucose, corn syrup, and barley malt among others.
  • Sugars with glucose/fructose may be listed as brown sugar, caramel, confectioner’s sugar, golden syrup, molasses, honey, maple syrup, and fruit juice.
  • Granulated or solid sugars may be listed as brown sugar, icing sugar, date sugar, or powdered sugar.
  • Liquid or syrup sugars may be listed as maple syrup, caramel, honey, treacle, or agave nectar/syrup. 

Live the #NewEarthLife

Take control of your health today and join us in living the #NewEarthLife—arm yourself with the knowledge to spot hidden sugars on food labels and make informed choices for a healthier lifestyle. And remember: not all sugar is bad. In fact, your body needs some sugar in order to function properly, so enjoying any of the various types of sugars in moderation is absolutely okay. 

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