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What Are Hidden Sugars?

Most of us are familiar with the types of foods that contain added sugars—ice cream, soda, doughnuts, concentrated juices, etc. But what about those "not-so-obvious" grocery items that contain "hidden" sugars? 

It may be easier to avoid certain comfort foods that are more calorie dense like cake or cotton candy, but it can be just as easy to unintentionally consume more sugar than expected in foods that also contain macro-and micro-nutrients.

Before we can identify where all that sugar is hiding, let's first review the types of sugars we consume each day. 

Different Types of Sugars

The body uses carbohydrates, including certain sugars and starches, to supply glucose as energy for the brain and cells throughout the body.  Sugars are found in many fruits and veggies that also provide us with fiber and other essential nutrients and are therefore considered "naturally occurring."

Added sugars, on the other hand, are any sugars that are added to foods or beverages in addition to its naturally occurring sugar content. These are what we call "hidden" sugars.

What Are Hidden Sugars Examples

Think about the spoonful of sugar in your morning cup of coffee or sweetened iced tea. Those are both examples of added sugars. 

"Added sugars (or added sweeteners) can include natural sugars such as white sugar, brown sugar and honey, as well as other caloric sweeteners that are chemically manufactured (such as high fructose corn syrup)," (American Heart Association). 

According to the AHA, it's recommended that you limit added sugars to no more than 6% of your daily calorie intake. For women, that’s typically no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugars. For men, that's about 9 teaspoons. 

Inspecting your food's sugar content might sound like a lot of extra work up front, but there are a few simple tricks to help you pin-point added sugars right from the start!

First, you'll want to begin with each food label and look for any of the following common types of added sugars:

  • Agave Nectar
  • Honey
  • Molasses
  • Malt
  • Maple Syrup
  • Corn Sweetener
  • Corn Syrup
  • Canned Juice
  • Cane Syrup
  • Juice concentrates

Next, check under the Total Carbohydrates listing on the label. The FDA now requires food manufactures to separate the amount of Added Sugars from the Total Sugars included on nutrition fact labels. 

You'll notice that under the total grams of sugar, there may be a listing that begins with the word "includes" followed by the amount of added sugars. 

Finally, when you're shopping for sugar, or need this common ingredient for a recipe, consider trying a smart alternative like Allulose. You may see this ingredient included in food labels or next to other sugar substitutes in the baking aisle. 

Allulose is a new, naturally occurring sweetener that can be found in foods like corn, raisins, and figs.

Why is this a better sugar alternative?

Allulose not only looks and tastes like sugar, but it also has little impact on blood sugar. 

Remember, sugar is a type of carbohydrate. And when our bodies consume carbs, they break down into glucose (i.e., blood sugar). But here is where it gets tricky. There are two forms of carbohydrates: simple and complex.  

Simple carbohydrates contain one-or-two sugar molecules (i.e., mono-and disaccharides). Common monosaccharides include glucose and fructose.  Sucrose is a common disaccharide made of one glucose and one fructose.  Simple carbs are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream where the glucose increases blood sugar levels.

Complex carbohydrates have longer chains of molecules, and as a result, it takes more time for your body to break them down and digest. Fiber and starch are good examples of complex carbohydrates, but fiber is not broken down. 

Allulose is another simple carb, like fructose or glucose,  but similar to fiber, our body cannot use allulose.  Therefore, allulose won't impact your blood sugar. 

The Key Takeaway?

Sugar doesn't have to be complicated. By understanding how much sugar is in each serving, in addition to choosing better sugar alternatives for your recipes, you can begin to equip yourself with the tools and knowledge to make the right choices that benefit your lifestyle.