3 Ways to Spot Added Sugar in Your Food

Find and reduce sugar and other sweeteners to lose weight and feel better

person spooning sugar into coffee

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Added sugars are a source of useless calories. Naturally occurring sugars, like those in fruit and milk, usually come packaged with other nutrients. But added sugar contributes calories and nothing else. If you’re trying to lose weight, avoiding foods with added sugars is important. 

3 Places to Find Added Sugar

1. The sugar bowl: Believe it or not, you might be the most common source of added sugar in your food. Sometimes we mindlessly add sugar to our food without paying attention. For example, how often do you add sugar to foods like cereal, coffee, cinnamon toast, or fresh fruit simply out of habit?

The first step to finding and eliminating extra sugar in your diet is to become aware of the spoonfuls we add at home.

To do this, make the bowl harder to reach. It will give you a moment to think twice about your choice to add sweetener to your food.

The calories in sugar can add up in a hurry, so you should be thoughtful if you are going to use it.

2. The nutrition label: The next place to find sugar is in the processed foods you eat. Many processed products, even those that you’d never suspect, contain sugar. For example, many savory foods like peanut butter contain sugar, and even some commercially produced salsas and ketchups contain the sweetener as well. 

To find out if your food contains sugar, start by checking the Nutrition Facts label. You’ll see a row halfway down the label that provides the total number of sugar grams in each serving of the product. The next line below that lists the grams of added sugar and the percentage of the daily value per serving.

But these numbers can be deceiving. First, the grams listed is for one serving of the food product. Do you know the difference between portion size and serving size

Make sure that if your portion is bigger than one serving, you multiply the grams of sugar times the number of servings you eat.

Second, the daily value listed on the label is based on the U.S.D.A. Dietary Guidelines' recommendation of up to 50 grams of added sugar for a 2,000-calorie diet. If your daily calorie needs are more or less than that number, you'll need to calculate your added sugar limit.

Here's how: The Guidelines recommend that people consume no more than 10% of their daily calories from added sugar. Each gram of sugar has 4 calories. So divide your daily calorie needs by 40 to get the number of grams of sugar—for example, 1,600 calories divided by 40 equals 40 grams of sugar.

3. The ingredients list: Finding hidden sugars in the ingredients list takes keen detective skills. Unfortunately, very few food manufacturers call sugar by that name on the label. They often use other terms that are harder to decode.

One rule of thumb is to look for any word ending in “ose.” Those are most likely sugars. These are some other terms that manufacturers might use to describe the sugar that has been added to a product.

  • Agave nectar
  • Brown sugar
  • Cane crystals
  • Cane sugar
  • Corn sweetener
  • Corn syrup
  • Crystalline fructose
  • Dextrose
  • Evaporated cane juice
  • Fructose
  • Fruit juice concentrates
  • Glucose
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Invert sugar
  • Lactose
  • Maltose
  • Malt syrup
  • Molasses
  • Raw sugar
  • Sucrose
  • Sugar
  • Syrup

If you see one of these names listed, then the product contains added sugar. If the sugar is listed as one of the first ingredients, then it is a primary ingredient.

What If I Can’t Give Up Sugar?

So how do you know if you have a problem with sugar? There are a few common signs and symptoms of sugar addiction. One of them is having trouble reducing sweetened food products from your diet.

But if you find that you have a bad sugar habit, don’t panic. There are simple ways to get added sugar out of your diet and live a low-sugar life.

And it’s worth the effort! Without added sugar, you can learn to enhance your enjoyment of food. And chances are good that reducing your sugar intake will mean reducing your total calorie intake. Then, results on the scale are sure to follow. 

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3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition.

  2. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Added sugar in the diet.

  3. DiNicolantonio JJ, O’Keefe JH, Wilson WL. Sugar addiction: is it real? A narrative reviewBr J Sports Med. 2018;52(14):910-913. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2017-097971