How to identify Sugar on food labels! (Carb Basics pt 3)

In this article I reveal what to look for in food labels in order to identify healthy and unhealthy sugars and I share my personal healthier recommendationsWelcome to part 3 of my five part series on sugars and carbs. In this article, we will see how to identify sugar in foods in order to minimize its impact on our body and maximize our fat loss potential.

If you want to learn more about the dangers of sugar, check out part 2. It would also be wise to check out my introduction to carbs here.

Let’s get started…



Are all sugars the same?

Yes and no. All sugars have exactly the same molecular structure and create similar physiological responses in the body (e.g. insulin secretion). However, sugars that are found in nature such as maple syrup, date syrup and honey, come loaded with enzymes and vitamins which make them an amazing food when consumed in small doses.

The last remark is of high importance. Moderation is key when it comes to nutrition and health and anything consumed in excess will eventually lead to health problems. Even high consumption of something as natural as fructose found in fruits can be harmful.

Everything else that has been processed is garbage and should be avoided by most normal people. Athletes, on the other hand, can get away with a bit of junk food and for one simple reason: they have higher demands of glucose. Bodybuilders especially, who want to get and stay big, depend greatly on glucose consumption but even they are not off the hook when it comes to the health hazards of refined sugars.

People with weight problems such as being overweight, obese and anyone who has a lot of body fat should stay away from any type of sugars – processed or natural. Sugars have no place in their nutrition until they have reached a healthy weight by tweaking other macronutrients (protein and fat).

Hidden Sugars in the Food Industry

In the last years, the food industry is making a turn to ‘healthier’ foods. By healthy they mean less sugar or -as they claim- natural sources of sugar. However, these sugars are still processed up to a point which are makes them equally unhealthy.

So what can you do to protect yourself against this? ALWAYS read the label before buying any product as there are a lot of products other which claim to be sugar free, low calorie or fat free that contain all of these ingredients which make their claim totally void.

If you do find any of these on the label, do not buy the product!

With that in mind, let’s find out what unhealthy sugars are found in processed foods by identifying the following ingredients.

Common Names of Sugar found on Food Labels

  • Sugar,
  • Turbinado Sugar,
  • Sucrose  (white sugar),
  • Glucose (monosaccharides),
  • Brown Sugar,
  • Dextrin,
  • Corn syrup,
  • Lactose (milk sugar),
  • Maple sugar,
  • High fructose corn syrup or (HFCS),
  • Barley malt syrup,
  • Brown rice syrup,
  • Maltose (corn derived),
  • Chicory syrup,
  • Date Sugar,
  • Caramel,
  • Molasses or molasses powder,
  • Fructose (from fruits) (monosaccharides),
  • Brown rice syrup,
  • Maltodextrin (corn derived),
  • Dextrose (corn derived) (monosaccharides),
  • Invert sugar,
  • Cane sugar,
  • Evaporated cane juice (is the same as table sugar, only difference is that it has a few molasses),
  • Palm sugar,
  • Agave nectar or agave syrup.

 What about Sugar alcohols?

This is a completely separate category and refers to a product which is usually added in protein bars as a sweetener or sugar substitute with lower calories. It is a massive source of carbs and in some cases may come from the fermentation of G.M.O. plant sources.

The base for this type of sugars is usually Ethanol or ethyl alcohol which is neurotoxic as it can cause brain damage in high doses.

Another problem with these sugars is that they cannot be fully absorbed by your small intestine and can often cause bloating, diarrhea and flatulence.

As a rule for a healthy nutrition, I recommend avoiding sugar alcohols altogether.


The monosaccharides listed on the above table are suitable only for athletes in the peri-workout time frame. However, they may be coming from GMO sources which classifies as suspicious and potentially dangerous.

Disaccharides facts

The most common disaccharides found in the food industry today, are table sugar (or white sugar) and High fructose corn syrup. Both of them are extremely unhealthy, found almost everywhere today which means it is very easy to overdose on them.

1) Table sugar or white sugar is a disaccharide sucrose which is 50% glucose and 50% fructose.

2) High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is another disaccharide sucrose which is 45% glucose and 55% fructose.

Are sweeteners healthy?

It depends on the sweetener. They come in 2 types: artificial and natural.

Some people think that they can eat healthier by replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners. That is a big mistake. You might want to read my article on the dangers of aspartame, sucralose, saccharin and other artificial sweeteners.

Natural sweeteners, on the other hand, are a great way to create a healthier nutritional plan. So instead of using artificial sweeteners, try using natural sugar alternatives like the ones mentioned below.

Healthy Alternatives to sugar

  • Maple syrup (full of zinc, antioxidants and some vitamins B).
  • Raw organic Honey (is 53% fructose but is full of vitamins B, antioxidants, enzymes and some traces of minerals. Amazing when consumed raw in small quantities).
  • Date syrup (full of potassium, antioxidants and enzymes).
  • Stevia (sugar free and used as a sweetener – the only safe calorie-free sweetener out there).

What about agave syrup?

Contrary to what most people think, agave nectar or agave syrup is NOT a healthy alternative to sugar. This product is not natural and it is in fact – highly processed. More specifically, the heat process that turns the original agave nectar from the plant into syrup destroys all the enzymes and other beneficial nutrients. So again, you end up with a product high in sugar and void of any other nutrient.

Yes, it does have a low Glycemic Index but it is 80% fructose!!! If you remember, HFCS -perhaps the most dangerous sugar out there- is only 55% fructose! So what does this tell you about agave syrup?

Agave syrup is a different kind of High Fructose Syrup and it’s even worse than white sugar itself! Its biggest problem is that it’s concentrated which means it can still cause high levels of blood triglycerides which can put you at risk for heart health.

What about all the new sugars like coconut palm sugar?

Coconut palm sugar (a.k.a palm sugar or coconut sugar) is a new product that came out in the last couple of years and is considered to be healthy. Apparently, some people tried to pass it as a traditional Filipino product to exploit both the ‘healthy/natural sugar’ market and the love people have for exotic and traditional stuff which make foods automatically healthy. However, this was never the case according to Filipino locals.

The American Diabetes Association states that “the actual glycemic index (GI) of this product has not been tested or established and that people with diabetes can use it as an occasional sweetener but it should be treated as regular sugar since it has almost the same nutritional value”.

Closing Notes

It is always recommended to do your own research before jumping on any new food or health fad that comes out. In this way, you will be able to protect yourself from the massive amount of (healthy) crap that is floating on the surface of the internet these days.

I hope that now you know a bit more about the different kind of sugars and also how to identify them on food labels. Just by reading the ingredient list, you can already eat healthier by avoiding all the processed sugars thus helping your reach your body and health goals.

Do you read the food labels when you buy groceries? If so, how many of the above unhealthy sugars have you encountered? Leave a comment below to let me know!

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Also if you have any comments or questions, feel free to leave a comment and I will get back to you as soon as possible. Thanks!

by Nick Sigma



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