Chow Line: The Devil’s in the Details When It Comes to Added Sugar in Foods and Drinks

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I’ve decided that I want to eat healthier and lessen the amount of sugar that I consume. But how can I tell what foods and drinks have added sugar?

Whether a food product is labeled honey-baked, maple-flavored or has dried raisins or fruit juice concentrates, what those words are really telling you is that you’re are about to eat or drink has added sugar.

People often don’t realize that many of the foods and beverages they consume have added sugar. According to a study by the University of North Carolina, of the most common packaged foods and drinks purchased in grocery stores across the country, 60 percent of them included some form of added sugar.

But what exactly is added sugar and why is it an issue?

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, added sugars are the sugars and syrups included with foods during processing. In addition to making processed foods more appetizing, sugars are added to food for other reasons, including preservation such as in jams and jellies, as a bulking agent in baked goods and ice cream, and to balance the acidity of foods containing vinegar and tomatoes.

While added sugars may taste good, according to the research, they provide little nutritional value and add calories to your diet. This could contribute to weight gain, tooth decay, type 2 diabetes, poor nutrition and increase triglyceride levels, which may increase your risk of heart disease.

The American Heart Association recommends limiting the amount of added sugars you consume to no more than half your daily discretionary calories allowance. For most women, that’s no more than 100 calories per day, or about 6 teaspoons of sugar. For men, it’s 150 calories per day, or about 9 teaspoons.

However, in order to limit the amount of added sugars you consume, you need to know how much are in your foods and drinks. That’s where the nutrition labels and ingredients lists come in.

But, you have to look for more than just the word “sugar.” Added sugars go by more than 60 different names, including:

  • Cane juice and cane syrup
  • Corn sweeteners and high-fructose corn syrup
  • Fruit juice concentrate and nectars
  • Honey
  • Brown sugar
  • Malt syrup
  • Molasses
  • Words that end in “-ose” such as Dextrose, Fructose, Lactose
  • Confectioners
  • Rice syrup
  • Sorghum
  • Sweetener

In addition to reading the nutrition labels and ingredients lists, you can reduce the added sugar in your diet by following these tips from the Mayo Clinic and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

  • Drink water or other calorie-free drinks instead of sugary sodas or sports drinks.
  • Choose fresh fruit for dessert instead of cakes, cookies, pies, ice cream and other sweets.
  • When buying canned fruit, chose the ones packed in water or juice, not syrup. Also, drain and rinse with water to remove excess syrup.
  • Watch the condiments — ketchup, BBQ sauce and salad dressings can sneak in extra sugar.
  • Start your day with more fiber.

And remember, even those products marked as healthy or organic can still have added sugar.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or

Editor: This column was reviewed by Irene Hatsu, state specialist in food security for Ohio State University Extension

Tracy Turner
For more information, contact: 

Irene Hatsu
OSU Extension, Food Security