The U.S. FDA has mandated that all packaged foods and beverages must display the sugar content per serving on their nutrition labels. Just because they are required to list it, however, doesn’t mean there aren’t tricky ways to add it to an ingredient list that make it harder to notice. There are many, many different names for sugar that can be used, and the list below covers some of the most common.
How is Sugar Classified ?
Sugars are classified by how many building blocks they’re made of, since the body breaks these links down in order to process individual sugars. Monosaccharides (single or simple sugars) include glucose, fructose, and galactose. Disaccharides (with two sugar building blocks) include sucrose, lactose, and maltose. Other sweeteners can be made with a combination of these sugars and are used for different purposes.
Glucose is the most abundant monosaccharide, and it is contained in almost all of the carbohydrates that humans consume. This is both because it is naturally occurring in many foods and also because it is a building block for other carbohydrates. Plants create it through photosynthesis, and humans convert much of the food we eat into glucose for the body to use as energy.
- Glucose is abundantly found in honey.
- Foods that contain white flour and white rice are high in glucose.
- Glucose is also found in agave, molasses, fruits, fruit juice, and sweet corn.
Dextrose is another simple sugar you’ll see on an ingredient list, and it is made from corn or other vegetables. It is chemically identical to glucose. Dextrose is commonly found listed in:
- Sports drinks
- Ice cream
Fructose, another simple sugar absorbed directly into the bloodstream during digestion, is often called fruit sugar. Fructose is 1.2-1.8 times sweeter than table sugar and is often sourced from sugar cane, sugar beets, and corn sources.
Foods containing fructose include:
- Honey, agave, and molasses
- Red peppers
Galactose, the final simple sugar, is also chemically similar to glucose and is converted into glucose by the body during digestion. It is only about 65% as sweet as table sugar. Foods containing galactose include:
- Sweetened desserts
Sucrose, or table sugar, is made up of glucose and fructose. It is made by crystallizing sugar cane or beet juice. It is added to many processed foods, such as:
- Ice cream
- Sucrose is commonly purchased plain and used for baking
Lactose is the sugar that naturally occurs in milk, and it is made of galactose and glucose. You’ve probably heard of lactose intolerance, which is a condition where a person’s body can’t digest those sugars. It affects about 36% of Americans. Lactose is found in:
- Other dairy products
- Baked goods and desserts that contain dairy products
Maltose is another naturally-occurring sugar that contains two units of glucose. It is used to form other sweeteners such as high-maltose syrup and high conversion syrup. Foods that naturally contain maltose include:
Malt syrup is a sweetener that is made from malted barley and uses a few different kinds of sugars. It typically consists of mainly maltose but may also contain glucose, sucrose, and fructose. It is about 50% as sweet as sucrose. It is added to foods like:
- and even homebrews
Corn starch can be broken down into its individual glucose molecules, resulting in corn syrup that is essentially pure glucose. In fact, confectioners often refer to it as glucose syrup. It is used in making sweets because it:
- Softens texture
- Adds volume
- Enhances sweetness and flavor
- Prevents sugar crystallization
High-fructose Corn Syrup
High-fructose corn syrup used to get a lot of media attention, and most of it was negative. Half fructose and half glucose, HFCS is made when enzymes are added to corn syrup and introduce the necessary fructose. It is primarily used in the making of:
- Other processed foods