Get the Facts: What to Keep in Mind About Added Sugars

“I can have butter again?! Did you hear that? I can have butter again!”

My dad couldn’t be happier to hear the news. Over the holiday break, my parents happened upon a documentary that explained how sugar is the new evil and good fats were back in style.

Just like fat in the 1990s, sugar is now getting a bad rep. Thanks to the publicity from sources like Fed Up, I Quit Sugar and the mainstream media, sugar is starting to pay the price for the damages it caused.

Now that we agree sugar is not-so-great for us, what can we do about it? How do we consume less of something that is so engrained in our daily lives? The first step is recognition.

How do I know if this has sugar in it?

Sugar comes in many different forms and hides behind nicknames. There are around 60(!) names for sugar. Women’s Health breaks down a list of sugar names here. While some are obvious (like raw sugar and buttered syrup) others are not very familiar (like maltodextrin or crystal dextrose).

A lot of these types of names pop up in food that has added sugars (AKA, sugars and syrups that are added to food or drinks and do not occur naturally).

Aren’t added sugars regulated?

You might have recently heard that added sugars have to be disclosed on the Nutrition Facts label for packaged food. While this is true, it isn’t happening for most foods until mid-2018. In the meantime, be on the lookout for sugar on the label (and all of the names for it) to help you make an informed decision. You can also look at the “Total Sugars” section of the Nutrition Facts label, but some of those sugars may occur naturally (for example, coconut water would have a high amount of total sugar, but it’s hard to know how much of those sugars occur naturally vs. what could have been added when it was being processed).

Where are added sugars most common?

There are plenty of foods that are bad for us and, for the most part, we recognize them and choose to indulge in them from time to time (totally OK). When I eat a donut or a piece of pie, I know that I am not fueling my body with A+ sources of nutrition. Everything in moderation, right?


The sugar that is the most dangerous for us is the kind we don’t account for – it’s the type that sneaks into our daily routine and diets without being detected. If we indulge in a sweet here and there, we are aware of it – but there are plenty of “sweets” and sugars hiding in everyday foods that we need to recognize to help us make better choices.

When the world went anti-fat, food started tasting a little … lacking. So, many food manufacturers enhanced taste with – you guessed it – sugar. These are the sugars we should be looking out for when choosing between brands at the grocery store.

Here are some common foods that contain added sugars:

  • Low-fat yogurt
  • Granola bars
  • Pasta sauce
  • Barbecue sauce
  • Protein bars
  • Sports drinks, including Vitaminwater (32 grams of sugar in a regular bottle!)
  • Pre-packaged soups
  • Pre-made smoothies (look for “no added sugars” on the label, and try to get smoothies with some vegetables in them instead of all fruit)
  • Canned fruits, beans and vegetables
  • Coffee drinks (learn how to make a healthier coffee order here)
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Salad dressing
  • Chewing gum (look for Xylitol, a naturally occurring sugar alcohol, used as a sugar substitute instead. My dentist/roommate claims it is a better option for your teeth!)

What are some other tips for shopping with sugar moderation in mind?

If you are substituting out a sugary drink, you can’t go wrong with good ol’ water, but sometimes that just doesn’t do the trick. If you are a sports drink fan, check out Nuun electrolyte drink tabs. If you are a soda fan, try making the switch over to sparkling water (Team La Croix for life! And I used to hate the stuff).

For most foods, buying fresh is the best option. If it naturally rots, that’s probably a good sign that it’s better for you to eat and your body to break down. A good rule of thumb is to stay to the outskirts of the grocery store (where the produce and fresh foods are) and fill up your cart as much as possible before heading into the middle (pre-packaged) sections. If you are going to buy pre-packaged foods (and most of us are), be aware of the total sugar content on the label and compare different brands for their sugar content. All protein bars are not created equally.

Do you have any other tips or tricks on recognizing added sugars? What are your favorite substitutes (Halo Top ice cream, anyone)? Let us know in the comments!

Eat Hacks & Tips

About Cass Gunderson

Cass hails from the southwest suburbs as a proud White Sox fan and a graduate of University of Illinois. By day, Cass is a full-time student at the University of Chicago's Booth Graduate Business School. Before deciding to throw away all her money to go back to school, Cass worked for a private equity firm that buys technology companies. Raised as the youngest in a family of older brothers, Cass grew up a tomboy and remains active in sports. To her mother’s satisfaction, Cass learned how to embrace her feminine side in college and has developed an interest for fitness activities that require spandex as opposed to knee-length basketball shorts. In her spare time, she runs a lot because it is cheaper than paying for real therapy. Cass has completed four marathons and one ultramarathon (she claims she'll never do this to herself again, but that's TBD). She can still be found on the basketball courts in Lincoln Park wearing knee-length basketball shorts.

2 thoughts on “Get the Facts: What to Keep in Mind About Added Sugars

  1. There is an app called Sugar Rush that helps you visually understand how much sugar is in a particular product. All you have to do is scan the barcode and it will show you how many teaspoons of naturally occurring bs added sugar your product has!

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