On a lot of products you read ‘no added sugar.’ Does that mean the product is sugar-free or does that mean that the amount of sugar in the product is just minuscule? The answer to this question varies per product but is very easy to find when you know where to look.
What do people mean when they talk about Sugar? We call the small carbohydrates that make our food sweet (like for instance glucose, fructose, and sucrose) sugar. You can find them in a lot of (fairly) unprocessed products like for instance fruits and vegetables. The most common sugar you will find that makes fruit taste, so sweet is fructose. The amount of fructose you will find naturally in these products, however, is not high compared to the amount sugar added to products like candies, cookies, soft drinks and many more. In these products, you will most likely find a large amount of sucrose, the small carbohydrate that we know best as table sugar.
On the nutrition label for your products, you can find out if there are sugars in it. They are listed under carbohydrates and often sugars are mentioned separately. Now this is where it gets interesting. Not all products list the difference between added sugars and Sugars that are already present in the raw ingredients. It would be ideal if all nutrition labels would tell us the amount of sugar added but currently, not all nutrition labels provide us with this information.  http://www.inspection.gc.ca/food/labelling/food-labelling-for-industry/nutrition-labelling/no-added-sugars/eng/1409805993240/1409806059770 That leaves us with one thing to do; inform ourselves on what we are eating.
What is added sugar
Added sugar is most often table sugar (sucrose) that is added to a product by the manufacturer. It sort of goes like this;
You are making a homemade cola drink!
1 Liter of water (this would not contain any Sugars).
1 Tablespoon of magical ingredients like colorant and caffeine (this would also not contain any sugars).
And last but not least, 110 grams of sugar.
The 110 grams of sugar that we add is, not surprisingly, what we call added sugars.
While you are making things, maybe also make some fresh orange juice.
18 oranges (because you would like to make about the same quantity orange juice as you made cola drink)
You squeeze the oranges, and the juice comes out. This juice is created by the orange tree while the oranges were growing. The main component (like in your home made cola drink) is water. You do not add any, but there is sugar in your orange juice. Per orange you squeeze, you add about 7 grams of sugar to your orange juice. That means that in one Liter of orange juice, you can find about 63 grams of sugar. The sugar is already present in the oranges and thus, would not fall under ‘’added sugar’’.
Now let’s say you sample the orange juice and it is not as sweet as you had hoped. You can add some sugar (say 50 grams) to sweeten it a bit. This would mean that you have 122 grams of sugar and 50 grams of added sugars in your orange juice.
In this orange juice example, you know exactly how much of the sugar is added sugar because you add it yourself. You can also estimate how much sugar can be found in one orange (you cannot be 100% sure of the exact amount because it depends on the size of the orange, how ripe it is, where it was grown etc.). When looking at the nutritional label for other products, however, you need to guess when it comes to the amount of sugar that is added and the amount that is naturally occurring in products.
Know your products
In general, it is wise to get a feel for what your most used products are made with. You would know that your pasta will most likely contain flour and eggs, your lollipop is mainly made from sugar and your ice cream is so delicious because of the cream and sugar that were used to make it. If you are not sure, use the internet to look up things like ‘’ingredients to make ….’’ and develop a feel for what it is you are eating. That way, when you are shopping, and you look at the nutrition label for soft drinks, milk and bread you can ask yourself;
- Is there anything in nature that makes this product? (a plant or animal).
- If not, what are the ingredients used to produce this product?
- How are these ingredients made?
After a while, you will know the nutritional values for the basic ingredients like water, milk, flour, eggs, fruits and vegetables and so on.
Things to keep in mind when you are looking for added sugars in food
- There are some products where sugar has not been added but where the sugar concentration is significantly higher than it was in the product that was used to make the food you are buying. How is that possible? An example of a product where this is the case are raisins. You start with a grape. Grapes contain about 15 grams of Sugar per 100 grams (15%). Let’s say a grape weighs about 5 grams. That means that every grape contains roughly 0.75 grams of sugar (this is still 15%). Now we will use these grapes to make raisins by drying them. After we are done, we have raisins that contain 60 grams of Sugar per 100 grams (60%). That is four times the amount of sugar we started out with! We started with 100 grams of grapes, but we are left with only 25 grams of raisins. The water that evaporated out of the grapes caused an increase in the sugar concentration. So it does not matter if you are eating 25 grams of raisins or 100 grams of grapes when you are trying to watch your sugar intake. The only difference is the amount of water you are taking in. So to put it in a food formula: 20 Grapes = 20 Raisins and a small glass of Water.
- When you are looking for recipes with a low added sugar content, it is important to keep in mind that even though the sugar is not added, the product might still contain a fair amount of sugar. As you now know, raisins can have a sugar percentage that is higher than 60%. Maple sap gets concentrated (just like with making raisins, the water is evaporated) to a point where the sugar concentration reaches 70%. Honey can even have a sugar concentration higher than 80%. All these products are added sugar-free but also contain different micro-nutrients. For this reason, it is useful to read the nutrition label and the ingredient list when you are buying ingredients and food products so you can make sure you know what you are buying. This way you can find out if ”no added sugar” on your product is an actual selling point when watching your sugar intake, or if it is just a catchy phrase.
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