SUGAR VERSUS SUGARS
Catherine Saxelby and Megan Cameron-Lee help to decipher the sugar content in
foods and help you make good food choices while shopping.
Two types of sugar
that’s why food labels aren’t as helpful as they could be.
When nutritionists talk about sugars, we usually classify them as
two separate types:
On the label you’ll find all sugars listed as a sub-group of
carbohydrates. Turn to the back of any pack and run your eye
down the left hand column. You’ll spot carbohydrates (which is the
sum of both sugars and starches) and then directly under it, you’ll
see sugars. However, this doesn’t tell you just the sugar added to
the product by the manufacturer, it actually refers to all sugars in
the product, both natural and added.
1. The naturally occurring forms of carbohydrate that are part of
many healthy foods such as fruit, called fructose (a single
sugar or monosaccharide) and dairy, called lactose (a double
sugar or disaccharide). Fructose and lactose in fruit and milk
products respectively are not toxic or unsafe. They are a
normal part of whole foods that contain many other beneficial
nutrients such as fibre and vitamins, and are not considered a
problem in a balanced diet.
2. The refined crystals and syrups that are added to a lot of
not-so-healthy foods. Sugar (for example, white, raw or
brown sugar, icing sugar) contains sucrose, which is a double
sugar or disaccharide. It’s refined from cane sugar or sugar
beets. This is the stuff that typically gets added to soft
drinks, cordials, energy drinks, bars, biscuits and lollies to
make them taste sweet. This is the sugar that we need to
reduce our intake of as it contains nothing healthy and is
nutrient poor. The syrups such as honey, rice malt syrup,
maple syrup, golden syrup and agave are considered as forms
of refined sugar. They are mostly mixtures of glucose and
fructose with some sucrose.
How sugars are defined on the label
Sugars and sugar are definitely very different in terms of their
health effects, but they get lumped into the same category and
Searching for sugar
Let’s compare plain/natural with fruit or honey flavoured yoghurt.
On a label you can read across the row of the Nutrition Panel to see
that natural full cream yoghurt has around five per cent sugars
(which we know is all lactose from the cow’s milk). Look under the
“per 100g” column.
Honey vanilla yoghurt has more, with ten per cent sugars. This is a
mixture of that five per cent natural lactose plus added sugar (sucrose).
So we conclude that around five per cent is added. We simply deduct
five from the total of ten, to come up with that five per cent.
Similarly, strawberry yoghurt has more, with 11 per cent sugars.
This is a mixture of four per cent natural lactose plus added
sugar (sucrose), plus natural fructose from the fruit, so we
conclude that around seven per cent is from the sugar and fruit,
although we have no way of knowing how much of each. I’d
estimate it to be four per cent from sugar (sucrose) with three
per cent from the fructose.
CATHERINE SAXELBY, APD
Learn more at: website | profile
Catherine is an Accredited Practising Dietitian who helps busy women eat right,
lose weight and boost their energy through her website, Foodwatch.