What does no sugar added really mean?

When you see a food label that says “no sugar added”, it can be misleading. Food manufacturers want you to think their product is healthy, but no sugar added doesn’t necessarily mean low in sugar or carbohydrates.

What is added sugar?

Added sugars are those added during processing or preparation. They include:

  • White sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Raw sugar
  • Corn syrup
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Malt syrup
  • Maple syrup
  • Pancake syrup
  • Fructose sweetener
  • Liquid fructose
  • Honey
  • Molasses
  • Anhydrous dextrose
  • Crystal dextrose

Added sugars provide calories but few essential nutrients. Consuming too much added sugar can lead to excess calorie intake, weight gain, and an increased risk for chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and fatty liver disease.

How is added sugar different from natural sugar?

There are two main types of sugars found in foods:

  1. Naturally occurring sugars – Found naturally in fruits, vegetables, dairy products. Examples are fructose in fruit and lactose in milk.
  2. Added sugars – Added to foods during processing, preparation, or at the table. Examples are table sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, and maple syrup.

Both types contain calories and can spike blood sugar. But naturally occurring sugars generally come packaged with beneficial nutrients like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. Added sugars contain just empty calories.

Do foods labeled “no sugar added” contain added sugars?

Yes, foods marked “no sugar added” can still contain added sugars for several reasons:

  1. They may naturally contain sugars like fructose, glucose, sucrose, maltose, and lactose.
  2. Other ingredients like corn syrup, honey, concentrated fruit juice, and maple syrup are added.
  3. The product has ingredients that contain natural sugars like fruit, milk, or yogurt.

“No sugar added” only means extra sugars like table sugar, brown sugar, or corn syrup weren’t added during processing. The food can still be high in natural sugars and other sweeteners.

What foods are likely to have added sugar even when labeled no sugar added?

Some foods that often contain added sugars even when marked no sugar added include:

  • Fruit juice – Often has added fruit juice concentrate.
  • Fruit yogurt – Usually sweetened with fruit juice, purees, or concentrates.
  • Granola – May contain honey, brown rice syrup, or dried fruit.
  • Energy/protein bars – Can contain syrups, juice concentrates, or fruit purees.
  • tomato sauce – Often includes sugar or corn syrup.
  • Salad dressing – May be sweetened with corn syrup, honey, or juice concentrate.
  • Flavored oatmeal – Often sweetened with fruit, brown sugar, or syrups.
  • Canned fruit – Typically packed in syrup made with added sweeteners.

Check the full ingredient list. Words ending in “ose” like sucrose, dextrose, maltose indicate added sugars.concentrate indicate added sugars.

How can you identify added sugars on food labels?

Here are some tips for spotting added sugars on food labels:

  • Read the ingredient list from top to bottom. Added sugars should be listed separately.
  • Look for words ending in “ose” like sucrose, dextrose, maltose. These are sugars.
  • Watch for syrups like brown rice syrup, agave syrup, or cane syrup.
  • Beware of fruit juice, juice concentrates, and fruit purees. They count as added sugar.
  • Pay attention to sugar position. Ingredients are listed by quantity – the closer to the top, the higher the amount.

Check the Nutrition Facts label

The Nutrition Facts label can also help identify added sugars:

  • Look under Total Carbohydrates for the Added Sugars line.
  • The % Daily Value for added sugars should be low.
  • Compare brands and choose options with less added sugar.

What does it mean when a product says “reduced sugar”?

“Reduced sugar” means the product contains 25% less sugar than the original version. But the original could have been high in added sugars to begin with.

Here’s an example:

Product Total Sugars (grams)
Original cereal 12g
Reduced sugar cereal 9g

The reduced sugar cereal has 25% less total sugar than the original, but 9 grams is still high. Don’t assume reduced sugar means low in sugar.

What does no sugar added mean for diabetics?

For people with diabetes, “no sugar added” doesn’t automatically mean the product is safe to eat. Foods labeled no sugar added can still raise blood sugar levels.

Reasons no sugar added foods can impact blood sugar:

  • They may contain natural sugars that convert to glucose.
  • Ingredients like corn syrup and fruit juice concentrate act like sugar in the body.
  • Carbs from starch and fiber can raise blood sugar.
  • Sugar alcohols like sorbitol and xylitol affect blood sugar levels.

People with diabetes should:

  • Look at total carb content, not just added sugars.
  • Check the impact on blood sugar by reading the glycemic index.
  • Focus on portion size and nutritional balance.
  • Ask your dietitian which no sugar added foods fit into your diet.

What does no sugar added mean for weight loss?

For weight loss, no sugar added foods may be higher in calories than you think. Reasons they may not help weight loss include:

  • They can still be high in natural sugars from ingredients like fruit, milk, and starches.
  • Sugar substitutes like honey, maple syrup, and juice concentrate add calories.
  • Foods touted as no sugar added are often highly processed with little nutrition.
  • Without added sugar, fat and sodium may increase to boost flavor.
  • Portions of no sugar added foods are often too large, leading to excess calories.

To lose weight, reduce overall calorie intake. Don’t just focus on limiting added sugars. Read labels, control portions, and eat plenty of vegetables, fruits and lean proteins.

What does no sugar added mean for candida diet?

On the candida diet, which aims to treat the fungal overgrowth candida, “no sugar added” foods can still feed candida growth. This is because:

  • They may contain natural sugars that can promote candida.
  • Ingredients like fruit juice concentrate, agave nectar, and corn syrup act like added sugar.
  • Non-nutritive sweeteners may alter gut flora and affect candida.
  • Fruit in no sugar added foods contains fructose that feeds candida.

On the strict candida diet, read food labels carefully for all sugars and sweeteners, even when no sugar added. Focus on low sugar vegetables, proteins, healthy fats and non-starchy carbs.

What does no sugar added mean for inflammation?

Sugar is linked to inflammation, so limiting added sugars can help reduce inflammation. But no sugar added foods are not automatically anti-inflammatory. Reasons they may still cause inflammation include:

  • Natural sugars like fructose and lactose can drive inflammation.
  • Added sweeteners like agave, tapioca syrup, honey, maple syrup.
  • Heavily processed no sugar added foods often contain pro-inflammatory oils, chemical preservatives, and coloring agents.
  • Lacking fiber from whole foods, processed items digest quickly, spiking blood sugar and inflammation.

To curb inflammation, focus on whole, unprocessed foods low on the glycemic index. Enjoy colorful fruits & vegetables, lean proteins, nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains.

What does no sugar added mean for kids?

For children’s health, no sugar added is better than added sugar, but not necessarily healthy. Reasons to use caution with no sugar added kids’ foods:

  • They can still be high in natural sugars from fruit juice, yogurt and other ingredients.
  • Sugar substitutes like corn syrup and honey still impact blood sugar and weight.
  • Heavily processed no sugar added snacks often lack nutrients kids need.
  • Without added sugar, fat and sodium levels usually increase to boost flavor.
  • Fruits and milk have natural sugars that can cause tooth decay.

Limit sweets in your child’s diet, even no sugar added versions. Offer nutritious whole foods low in natural sugars most of the time.

Healthy swaps for no sugar added foods

Try these healthier alternatives to no sugar added foods:

Instead of: Choose:
Fruit snacks Fresh fruit
Fat free yogurt Plain Greek yogurt
No sugar added cereal Old fashioned oats with almonds
Frozen dessert Frozen banana “ice cream”
Canned fruit Fresh or frozen fruit
Flavored oatmeal Plain oats with cinnamon
Sweetened nut butter Natural nut butter
Sweet salad dressing Olive oil and vinegar
Energy/protein bars Nut and seed trail mix

Healthy baking substitutions for sugar

When baking at home, use these healthy alternatives instead of added sugars:

Instead of: Substitute:
1 cup sugar 1 cup date paste or appley sauce
1 cup sugar 1 cup mashed ripe banana
1 cup corn syrup 1 cup honey
1 cup maple syrup 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
Chocolate chips Diced dried fruit
Frosting Greek yogurt

Also, cut all sugar amounts by 1/3 to 1/2. With less sugar, let texture and natural flavors shine through.


While “no sugar added” sounds healthy, it doesn’t always mean low in sugar, carbohydrates and calories. Added sugar is just one piece of the nutrition puzzle. Read labels, check ingredients, and focus on a balanced eating plan full of nourishing whole foods.

When shopping:

  • Compare brands and choose options lowest in sugar.
  • Opt for whole fruits over juice.
  • Buy plain yogurt and add your own fruit.
  • Avoid fat free foods pumped up with corn syrup.
  • Seek out minimally processed options.

At home, skip the added sweeteners when cooking and baking. Satisfy your sweet tooth with fruit and small portions of naturally sweet treats like plain yogurt and dark chocolate.

Limit sweets of all kinds by filling up on healthy proteins, fats, complex carbs and fiber from whole foods. This helps control blood sugar, inflammation, weight and kids’ health.

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