How Sugar Hides in Your Foods by Assuming Aliases

As William Shakespeare said, “Sugar by any other name would taste as sweet.” Well, to be honest, the Bard of Avon was talking about roses, but the point is still valid. Fellow writer Gertrude Stein said, “A rose is a rose is a rose.” This article suggests that no matter what you call it, “Sugar is sugar is sugar.”

If you’re reading this website, chances are you are informed about health matters and aware that it pays to watch out for an excess of sugar in your diet. Sugar has been proven to be a major cause of the growing epidemics of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and fatty liver disease. So when shopping for foods for your family, you stop in the aisles of the supermarket and take the time to read the labels of products you’re considering buying. You’re also aware of the way that the list of ingredients on these labels work – the ingredients at the top of the list are the ones most present by weight or volume in the product. So if you’re reading the label for a box of Froot Loops that you’re thinking of buying for your kids and the first four ingredients are “sugar, whole grain corn flour, wheat flour, and whole grain oat flour,” you know that the #1 ingredient in the box is sugar. You probably put the box back on the shelf.

But what if, instead of the word “sugar,” you had encountered “dextrose?” Or “fructose,” or “evaporated cane juice,” or “malt syrup,” or “corn syrup?”

Manufacturers hide sugar in your foods by calling it other things

And they hide it in foods that you wouldn’t necessarily think contain large amounts of sugar. For example, a salad dressing called, temptingly, Ken’s Chef’s Reserve French Dressing with Applewood Smoked Bacon lists as its first ingredient high fructose corn syrup. The second ingredient in Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Easy Mac is corn syrup. A box of Honey Nut Cheerios Milk ‘n’ Cereal Bars contains – wait for it – sugar, high fructose corn syrup, fructose, brown sugar syrup, corn syrup, and sugar one more time further down on the list of ingredients.

Hmmmm. Maybe we should think of eating something healthier. Like yogurt. Oops…that container of Dannon’s Fruit On The Bottom blueberry flavor yogurt lists sugar, fructose, and high fructose corn syrup as its 3rd, 4th, and 5th ingredients. Maybe we should snack on something with more protein, like peanuts. Reading the label for a can of Planters Honey Roasted Peanuts, we see sugar, corn syrup, and honey in 3rd, 4th, and 5th place. Maybe we’ll forget about snacking altogether and just have a glass of tonic water. You can’t go wrong with water, right? Oops…the second ingredient of Seagram’s Tonic Water is high fructose corn syrup.

Calling sugar by another name doesn’t make it less sweet

Dr. Barry Popkin, a professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina School of Public Health, points out that it’s the amount of sugars in processed foods that is troubling, not what they’re called. He explains that by adding several different types of sugar, manufacturers can list each sweetener lower on its list of ingredients, concealing the fact that the total amount of sugar in the product is enormous. His recent research indicates that of over 85,000 commercially available foods tested, 75% of them contained added sugars.

Some of the “aliases” that manufacturers use to conceal the presence of added sugar in these products are even sneakier than the ones discussed above. For example, “concentrated fruit juice” is just as sweet as pure sugar, but sounds better; besides, it’s cheaper to use in preparing the food than actual sugar. “Crystalline fructose” is made from corn, and although it sounds healthier than high fructose corn syrup, it’s 5% sweeter, and 20% sweeter than sugar. “Evaporated cane juice” is just a euphemism for normally-processed sugar made from sugar cane, as is “cane crystals.”

Getting the picture? Manufacturers hide the amount of sugars they add to their products by calling them different names. Sometimes they even change the names of existing sugars. For example, there has been so much bad press about the detrimental effects of high fructose corn syrup that the Corn Refiners Association has petitioned the FDA for the right to call it “corn sugar” instead. That’ll make it healthier, right? Yeah, right.

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Juliette Siegfried, MPH

Juliette Siegfried, MPH, has been involved in health communications since 1991. Shortly after obtaining her Master of Public Health degree, she began her career at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Juliette now lives in Europe, where she launched ServingMed(.)com, a small medical writing and editing business for health professionals all over the world.

Juliette's resume, facebook: juliette.siegfriedmph, linkedin: juliettes, (+31) 683 673 767

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