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Day 10:

Decoding Sugar on Food Labels

Day 10 - Decoding Sugar on Food Labels

Reading labels can be confusing. Luckily Andrea is an expert label reader, and is here to help us navigate the grocery store aisles!

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~ The Barbara’s Team


If you are like me, when you pick up a food item at the grocery store, you want to be able to quickly and easily see how much and what type of sugar it contains. Unfortunately, it’s not always so easy. So how do you decipher labels for sugar content?

Ingredient Panel

First of all, look at the ingredient panel. Sugar can appear on the label under more than 60 different names, ranging from the obvious (cane sugar) to the more obscure (dextrose, maltodextrin). To refresh your memory of the dozens of possibilities, see the list of other names for sugar in day 3 of this challenge.

Second, read the ingredients! Food manufacturers list their ingredients by decreasing amount of weight, so if some form of sugar appears within the first few ingredients chances are the food is higher in sugar – so find a better option. However, some food producers can “trick” consumers by using several different types of added sugars, and/or artificial sweeteners, in their products, which reduces the individual amounts but not the total. Clever, huh? So it’s important to read the entire ingredient panel for those “hidden” sugars.

Nutrition Facts Panel

Next, look at the Nutrition Facts panel. This reveals the number of grams of sugar (both natural and added as one value) per serving. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require food manufacturers to distinguish between the two types of sugars on packaging. However, there is an active proposal (issued July 2015) before the FDA to make this labeling change.

The proposed change would give consumers the percent daily value (%DV) for added sugars on the Nutrition Facts label. The %DV indicates how much a nutrient in one serving of food contributes to a daily diet. This %DV would be based on the recommendation that a person’s total daily caloric intake from added sugars not exceed 10 percent of their total calories per day.

Other Sugar Labeling Terms

You will find a variety of other terms and phrases food manufacturers can and do use on their products. Here are a few of them and what they really mean.[2]

  • If a serving contains more than 0.5 gram of sugar but less than 1 gram, the package can state “contains less than 1 gram” or “less than 1 gram.”
  • If a serving contains less than 0.5 gram of sugars, the Nutrition Facts panel can state 0 grams of sugar.
  • “Sugar Free” can be used if each serving of the food contains less than 0.5 grams sugars.
  • “Without Added Sugars” or “No Added Sugars” can be used if no sugar, or an ingredient that contains sugar was added during processing.

Be a wary and informed sugar consumer! Read labels and uncover the hidden sweetness in your food choices.


Andrea Donsky, B. COMM, is an Author, Registered Holistic Nutritionist (R.H.N.), Editor-in-Chief, and Founder of NaturallySavvy.com. Her passion is to inspire people to make enlightened choices for healthy living. Andrea has combined her background and expertise as both a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and an entrepreneur to educate the public on living an organic and non-GMO lifestyle through the creation of her businesses, books, articles, videos, speeches, and media appearances.