Sugars: What’s in a Name?

If you read food labels, you’re likely familiar with many of the ingredients in your food. Some ingredients, like sugar, probably get your attention more than others. You may have heard a few myths about the sweet stuff, but hopefully some facts, too. IFIC’s senior director of nutrition communications, Kris Sollid, was featured in a recent article published in Reader’s Digest discussing sugar and its many forms. Kris fact-checked some common myths about the many forms of sweeteners in our diets.

Myth: If it sounds exotic, it’s better for you.

Fact: Sugar is sugar.

Sweeteners with syrup and nectar in their name sound fancier than high fructose corn syrup, but are they healthier? According to Kris, “some people may believe exotic sounding sweeteners are better for them, but that’s not the case. Our bodies don’t prioritize sugars by their name or country of origin.”

No matter their name, most types of added sugar are simply just a different combination of the monosaccharides glucose, fructose or galactose. “Natural” sweeteners are not healthier than table sugar. The way each type of sugar is digested remains the same no matter if the sugars are naturally-occurring in foods or added to them, meaning that agave, coconut sugar, honey, Sugar in the Raw and table sugar are all broken down into the same basic elements to provide us with energy.

Myth: Sugars are “hidden” in foods.

Fact: Sugars can be found in plain sight on food labels.

It’s true that there are many different types of sugars and many people may be unfamiliar with some of them. But it’s not as complicated as some of their names might sound. According to Kris, “names for different sugars have specific meanings, whether it be the scientific name for a type of sugar, like fructose, or the standard of identity of a product like maple syrup. It’s the amount of sugars added to foods that people should pay attention to, not their names.” Use the Nutrition Facts label to find the total amount of sugars. Many products now use revised labels that also show the amount of added sugars.

We hope you’ll take the time to read the Reader’s Digest article in detail. If you’re interested in more facts about sugars, check out some of our latest resources: