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Sneaky Sugars: How to read food labels

Posted by: Patrick Catanzariti on July 13, 2016

Food labels

It’s not always easy to work out what’s hidden in the food you buy, especially when you’re trying to steer clear of added sugars! We take a look at what’s on the back of your packets.


(image courtesy of ‪

Servings per package: The amount of servings is decided by the manufacturer, which means that they can vary between products. It also means that the portion we actually eat might not be a ‘serving’ according to the pack. This can mean that we end up eating more (or less) than the nutrition information suggests we will.   For an accurate way to compare products, stick to the ‘per 100g’ column, which also makes it easier to work out the percentage of sugar in your snack – you just take the number in the column and that’s your percentage! (So in our example photo, the product is 11.8% sugar!)

Fat content is shown both as total fat (including saturated fats, trans fat, polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats), as well as a separate line for saturated fat. If the product makes a claim about the specific fat content of the food (so ‘high in omega-3 fatty acids’ or ‘low in monounsaturated fats’), they have to include this information separately as well.

Sugar content: Is listed as part of the carbohydrate count, and also separately as ‘sugars’. So that’s nice and easy at least. The tricky part comes when you realise that this counts ALL sugars – added sugars as well as those that naturally occur in food, such as fruit. This means that a product that claims to be ‘no added sugars’ can still be high in its overall sugar content. Sneaky!

Dietary fibre: You won’t see this on all food labels. It only needs to be included if the packaging makes a specific claim related to the amount of fibre in the product.

Sodium, or salt content, is measured in milligrams unlike the rest of the nutrients on the panel. That’s something to look out for if you’re trying to work out the percentage of sodium in your product. (To do it, divide the sodium amount by 1000, then that’s your percentage. So in our example, the product is 0.215% sodium.)


Common names for sugar on food packaging

So you’re all across how to read food labels. You pick up a package that doesn’t have ‘sugar’ on the list of ingredients, but you see on the nutrition panel that the product does actually contain sugar! Where’s it come from, and how can you tell? Sugar can be labelled as many different names, but no matter what you call it, it’s still the same stuff! Here’s some of the most common (but be warned, there are more than 50 ways of labelling sugar!)

  • Agave nectar/syrup
  • Brown rice syrup/rice syrup/rice malt
  • Corn sweetener
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup/ Corn Syrup
  • Crystalline fructose
  • Ethyl maltol
  • Evaporated Cane juice
  • Fructose
  • Fruit Juice Concentrate
  • Glucose/dextrose
  • Maltodextrin
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    1. Jessy says:

      I still don’t understand why government for example don’t ban that added sugar. Its everythere. Thanks author for sharing great info.

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