How to Find Hidden Sugar on Food Labels

How to Find Hidden Sugar on Food Labels

Packaging on foods in supermarkets can be deceptive. The product appears to be one without sugar, but a person with diabetes or on a low-sugar diet needs to be absolutely certain. The federal NLEA requires labeling on numerous food products-but, these labels do not require FDA pre-approval for use. While dining out in restaurants is difficult to navigate for people on sugar-restricted or low calorie diets, "fast food" and "take-out" retail settings are the most notorious in terms of adding sugar to unexpected food items.

Reading a Food Label

The labels on packaged foods differ in their placement of the nutritional content, but sugar is usually lower on the label (with the amount denoted in grams). This amount (e.g., 3 grams) usually refers to a serving size as stated on the package-as well as the number of servings in the package. However, your actual serving size may be more or less than the one that the manufacturer feels is standard.

While sugar is displayed as a numerical measurement, other contents may be denoted as a percent of daily intake based on a 2,000 calorie (or other specified numeric value) daily diet. This means that the percentage needs to be re-calculated for a different daily calorie intake-as may exist for a weight loss diet. Despite the lack of clarity in food labeling, it is still the best means of ascertaining the sugar content in prepared foods purchased in supermarkets.

Sugar in Vegetables and Fruits

The "empty calories" in sugary products (e.g., cookies) are discouraged on diabetic and low-sugar diets, but fruits also contain sugar that needs to be counted. While far healthier than most sucrose-laden desserts, the fructose in fruit is still converted to glucose in the body. Therefore, diabetics need to watch their intake of fruit to match their daily sugar allowance. For individuals without diabetes, an increased fruit intake is excellent for a weight loss diet due to the fiber content.

Using the Glycemic Index (GI) can aid in determining the blood glucose effect of typically unlabeled products. While the GI does not denote sugar content, it can aid an individual in determining the likely glucose "load" of eating some types of products. In order to calculate the amount of daily fruits and vegetables a healthy person requires, theCenters for Disease Control's website includes a calculator based on age, gender, and physical activity level (and generates a daily calorie level based on age).

Unexpected Sources of Sugar

In "fast food" establishments, sugar is frequently added to salads, muffins, and even fried chicken. It is important to ask about the sugar content before purchasing the item. For people with diabetes, the best policy is to avoid eating in "fast food" restaurants.

Prepared meals that include either corn syrup or added fructose as an ingredient have sugar content. Besides a high sodium content, many frozen dinners have sugar added to them. Diabetics should avoid eating pre-packaged, frozen dinners as much as possible, since this will likely increase their glucose intake.

Cooking meals from scratch is the best way to ensure the ability to limit sugar in a daily diet. Using sugar substitutes may improve the taste of some foods, but these are chemicals that can have negative health consequences over time. Controlling fat and sodium intake is also extremely important to a healthy eating regimen.