What’s really hiding in your food? The hidden sugar game

Sugar is big business and food companies hide it in foods under many names.

If you are looking to eat cleaner, healthier foods, you may be surprised at what is hidden inside packaged health foods. Sugar has many aliases and hides in junk food and health food alike. Be an informed consumer who knows how to spot hidden sugar.

I recently saw a 5.3 ounce yogurt which had 22 grams of sugar in it! Your average 12 ounce soda has about 40 grams of sugar. Comparing the two and considering grams of sugar per ounce of product, the yogurt is surprisingly the worse choice. This is a fairly common trend with sugar that is hidden in foods. You may think you are choosing the better breakfast food with the yogurt but the devil is in the details. Reading labels is a crucial skill in today’s grocery jungles. Assessing the protein and fat content, amount of sugar and source of sugar make some yogurts a solid choice and some a disaster.

There are many different hidden sugar names.

What is even more difficult is when we think we are reaching for a healthy food and it is jam-packed with added sugars. Some of the common surprising sources of excess sugars include: pasta sauce, granola bars, energy drinks, salad dressing, yogurt, instant oatmeal, packaged fruits and breakfast cereals. The even trickier part of decoding nutritional labels is the fact that there are literally dozens of names that sugar may be hidden under! These range from “ethyl maltol” to “panela” to “molasses” to “oat syrup” to “corn sweetener” or “glucose” and the list goes on and on. Georgetown University published a list of 65 alternative names for sugar that can be found here.

The following list comes from healthline and gives you a cheat sheet of alternative sugar names.

Forms of dry sugar

Barley malt

Beet sugar

Brown sugar

Buttered sugar

Cane juice crystals

Cane sugar

Caster sugar

Coconut sugar

Corn sweetener

Crystalline fructose

Date sugar

Dextran, malt powder

Ethyl maltol

Fruit juice concentrate

Golden sugar

Invert sugar

Maltodextrin

Maltose

Muscovado sugar

Panela

Palm sugar

Organic raw sugar

Rapadura sugar

Evaporated cane juice

Confectioner’s (powdered) sugar

Forms of syrup

Agave nectar

Carob syrup

Golden syrup

High-fructose corn syrup

Honey

Malt syrup

Maple syrup
Molasses

Oat syrup
Rice bran syrup

Rice syrup

Of course anyone who is on a health journey has seen the real challenge of how to interpret “health foods.” Companies get a lot of leeway to label products “natural” “all-natural” or “healthy.” Let’s not forget that arsenic is technically “natural” because it occurs in nature but that does not mean I want it in my food. There are a few things to watch for with health foods:

1.     Certain added sugars are commonly labeled as healthy.

2.     The low-fat food craze generally meant that sugar replaced fat to keep foods tasty.  

3.     Food labels may claim there are no added refined sugars.

I have an entire article dedicated to the special harms of high fructose corn syrup coming out on June 10th but all sugar impacts the body. “Refined sugar” usually just refers to white cane sugar or the myriad other forms of processed sugars. However, these alternatives still turn into sugar in your body. They may provide a small amount of micronutrients or have a lower glycemic index which means they break down more slowly in the gut, but do not forget they are still sugar. If you are trying to eat fewer processed foods, be sure to keep an eye out for these hidden sugars.

  • Agave syrup
  • Birch syrup
  • Coconut sugar
  • Honey
  • Maple syrup
  • Raw sugar
  • Cane sugar
  • Sugar beet syrup

The body does not care where it came from, it just loves sugar. You’ve got to use your will power and ability to plan and reason to defeat such a tricky foe. With the above information you can also be better equipped to decode nutritional labels. I am personally glad that the FDA has finally included “added sugars” as part of the nutritional label. This is another key item to pay attention to as it gives you a sense of if you are consuming sugars that were naturally part of that food or not. To understand the extent of this issue, according to the CDC – in 2017-2018 the average American adult consumed 17 tsp of sugar per day which adds up to about 57 pounds in a year.

Remember: not all sugar is equal. Naturally occurring sugar in fruit also carries fiber, antioxidants and vitamins. The fiber is crucial as it slows the transit of food in the GI tract and slows absorption of the sugars. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant and protective to the cardiovascular system. When we consume fruit juice, we extract all the sweetness and lose all that beneficial fiber. To be a conscientious consumer, you must take the time to really understand what you are putting in your body and try to make the best possible choices.

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Dr. Jessica Keating
Owner & Physician , Willow Clinic of Natural Medicine
Jessica Lodal Keating graduated with her doctorate in chiropractic medicine from National University of Health Sciences (NUHS) in Lombard, IL in December of 2016. She graduated summa cum laude and salutatorian of her class. She completed a primary care internship at the in-house clinic in the Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Center in downtown Chicago. There she was able to provide natural approaches to health and wellness to an under-served population. She also led efforts to solicit supplement donations from local doctors in order to provide these supplements to patients free of charge. During her time at NUHS, Dr. Keating also studied traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and became certified to perform acupuncture, moxabustion and fire cupping. She uses the wisdom of eastern medicine to complement her holistic approach to assessing each individual patient and treating the whole person. She participated in various other seminars and trainings over the course of her studies including MPI’s full-spine adjusting seminar and Apex’s Fundamentals of Functional Blood Chemistry. Dr. Keating also completed her Doctorate of Naturopathic medicine in 2018, graduating valedictorian and summa cum laude. Dr. Keating has worked in several natural primary care offices in the greater Chicagoland area. She is also a full-time naturopathic clinician at National University of Health Sciences. There she is able to help shape the next generation of naturopathic doctors. She has a home-call practice where she treats patients in the comfort of their own homes all around Chicagoland. Dr. Keating loves balancing private practice with teaching and clinical supervision. Dr. Jessica Keating received her bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon before deciding to attend NUHS. After her undergrad degree, she grew frustrated with the field of political science and sought a new career path. Her own health had been dramatically improved through diet, yoga and herbal medicine. Because of these experiences, she decided to deepen her understanding of natural medicine by pursuing a higher degree. Dr. Keating remains committed to her own health journey on a personal and professional level. She aims to help others thrive and maintain optimal health by guiding them down the same path and educating her patients by empowering them to take their health into their own hands. Dr. Keating practices holistic, natural primary care. She treats GI conditions, autoimmune disorders, women’s health, sleep issues, heart disease, diabetes, anxiety, depression, back pain as well as working with patients on weight loss and general wellness promotion. She treats pediatric, adult and geriatric patients using diet, lifestyle modification, herbal medicine, physical medicine and acupuncture. In her free time, Dr. Keating loves reading, biking, cooking and playing with her cats. Dr. Keating also enjoys yoga, tennis, rollerblading, going to the movies and travelling with her husband. She has been to 28 different countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America.
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