How to spot hidden sugars in food?

Published Aug 8, 2022 • Updated Aug 9, 2022 • By Candice Salomé

The WHO recommends that no more than 50 grams (less than 4 tablespoons) of sugar should be consumed daily. On average, however, people consume around 100 grams (less than 8 tablespoons) of sugar per day. Hidden sugars are partly responsible for this higher than normal consumption.

In fact, 80% of industrial food products contain added sugars.

So how can we spot hidden sugars in our food? How can we find them on food labels? Which foods should be avoided?

We explain it all in our article!

How to spot hidden sugars in food?

Convenience foods, cold cuts, gherkins, salad dressings, canned vegetables, sandwich bread, biscuits, etc. are products that are not found in the confectionery section of supermarkets but which nevertheless contain large quantities of sugar, which is called "hidden sugar".

Without even realizing it, we consume large quantities of sugar because it is added to most of our everyday meals.

The only way to unmask it is to read and understand food labels. However, this is not an easy task as there are many different names for sugar.

Here is some advice on how to read and understand food labels, and to avoid consuming too much sugar!

How to spot hidden sugars in our food?

Sugar is naturally present in vegetables and fruit, but also in other carbohydrate-containing foods such as dairy products, pulses and cereals.

Found on food labels, the word "carbohydrate" refers to the total of simple and complex sugars naturally present in the product, or added to it. The term "carbohydrate" includes sugar, starch and fiber. If it appears alone, it means that there are no added sugars.

The term "including sugars" found on food labels means that simple sugars (sucrose, glucose and fructose) are present and may be natural or added.

It is therefore complicated to know how much sugar is naturally part of a product and how much has been added to it.

However, the list of ingredients can give us a clue: if you don't see any ingredients such as starch, malt or syrup, this means that these sugars are naturally present in the product.

But there are other subtleties that are important to mention:

  • The term "sugar-free" means that the product does not contain sucrose but may contain other simple sugars such as fructose,
  • "No sugars" (plural) means that the product does not contain any simple sugars (glucose, lactose, sucrose, fructose),
  • "No added sugar" means that the product contains only naturally occurring sugars,
  • And finally, the term "low-sugar" means that it contains 30% less sugar than a similar product.

If we take the example of a plain yogurt, its carbohydrate content will be 5 grams and this corresponds to the sugar naturally present in milk: lactose. If we look at the label of a flavored yogurt, it says 15 grams of carbohydrates of which 10 grams are sugars. In addition to the 5 grams of carbohydrates which come from lactose, 10 grams of sugar have been added to the yogurt.

It is also important to note that the sugars used by manufacturers are not limited to table sugar (sucrose which is extracted from sugar cane or beet) but can also be glucose syrups (obtained by a chemical process from corn or wheat starch) and glucose-fructose syrups (prepared from glucose syrups in which part of the glucose has been converted into fructose).

Overall, anything containing the words 'syrup', 'malt' or 'starch' and anything ending in 'ose', 'ol' or 'ide' should alert you about the presence of sugar.

Here are the terms often used on labels - however, this is not a complete list:

  • Sucrose,
  • Dextrose,
  • Glucose,
  • Lactose,
  • Raffinose,
  • Maltose,
  • Maltodextrin,
  • Glucose syrup,
  • High fructose corn syrup,
  • Caramel syrup,
  • Corn syrup.

So, if you are planning to reduce your sugar intake, it is important to be vigilant and ensure that your efforts are not undone by unknowingly consuming products high in hidden sugars.

What foods should be avoided? 

Ready-made salad dressings, seasonings and sauces 

Ready-made sauces such as ketchup, barbecue sauce, mayonnaise, salad dressings, etc. contain large amounts of hidden sugars. A single dose of sauce can contain almost 10 grams of sugar!

Convenience foods 

Ready meals are high in fat, food colorings, flavorings, salt and sugar! A slice of lasagna contains about 10 grams of sugar, like many other ready meals.

Canned vegetables 

If you look closely at the list of ingredients in canned vegetables such as beans, peas, tomatoes, etc., you will see that they contain added sugar. They are present to improve the flavor and texture or to extend the shelf life of the product. The same applies to organic canned vegetables.

Weight loss-friendly foods 

Low-fat products, which at first glance may appear to be good for our weight and our health, are often packed with sugar. In fact, when something, such as fat, is removed from a product, it is always replaced by something else, usually sugar.

Cold cuts 

In order to facilitate the preservation of cold meats, manufacturers do not hesitate to add sugars such as dextrose, sucrose or glucose syrup to ham, sausages and other cooked meats.

Fruit juices and smoothies 

Fruit juices have a reputation for being healthy and full of vitamins. But they are actually a source of sugar (fructose), without the beneficial fiber found in fruit. The same applies to smoothies, which can contain as much as 40-60 grams (3-4.5 tablespoons) of sugar per 100 milliliters (3.3 ounces).

Life is all about balance! It is not necessary to completely eliminate certain foods from your diet, but it is important to be aware of the presence of hidden sugars and to consume them in moderation.

Was this article helpful to you?
Give it a "like" and share your thoughts and questions with the community in the comments below!
Take care!

avatar Candice Salomé

Author: Candice Salomé, Health Writer

Candice is a content creator at Carenity and specialzes in writing health articles. She has a particular interest in the fields of women's health, well-being and sports. 

Candice holds a master's degree in... >> Learn more


on 9/11/22

Yeah, I enjoyed article. True most foods that end in -ose usually have some type of sugar in. I had a list once about other names for sugar. Lost it somewhere. Used to work w/ personal trainer, & they had me keep food journal. When sugars are listed on nutrition labels, don't add sugar together, as it's been totalled already. When I journaled, I made that mistake, & made me seem I ate Much more sugar than I really ate. Hoping this helps.

on 2/14/23

Thank you for the information. Hidden sugars are very dangerous to health.

You will also like

Salt : Dangerous or Beneficial to Health

Salt : Dangerous or Beneficial to Health

Read the article
Nutrition and Food to Live Better?

Nutrition and Food to Live Better?

Read the article
Spoon theory: What is it and how can it help people living with chronic illness?

Spoon theory: What is it and how can it help people living with chronic illness?

Read the article

"Scentimental": The power of fragrance on our mental health!

Read the article

Most commented discussions