Sneaky Sugar


We all know that sugar is far from a health food. It rots our teeth, makes our kids hyper, leads to diabetes and a ton of other health issues. But, like many things, it’s all in the dose, right?

Eating sugar in moderation isn’t harmful, is it?

I don’t think it is. A cookie or ice cream cone is not going to hurt most people. This is where the dose matters and sneaky sugars start to add up to negatively effect our health.

Food manufacturers add sugar to foods for 2 reasons

#1 – To make shelf-stable food taste better

#2 – It’s CHEAP $$$$

When foods are processed and packaged they have to be shelf stable to survive the shipping and storage conditions and not spoil sitting on the shelf for months or years until their expiration date. Natural foods, the way they come from the ground are far from shelf stable. You’ve seen rotting produce in the grocery store, maybe even in your refrigerator at home.

Sugar is cheap! I won’t dive too deep into lobbyists or subsidies, but sugar is a commodity that is inexpensive for manufacturers to add to their products. ((notice I didn’t say “FOOD.”))

Ok, but processed and packaged foods have an ingredient label and that would say “SUGAR” as an ingredient, right?

And, the Nutrition Facts label would list it as grams of “SUGAR,” right?

Yes…and no. Sugar has MANY different names. You can even think of a few different types of sugar you may have in your pantry:

  • Sugar (white, cane sugar)
  • Brown Sugar
  • Molasses
  • Honey
  • Maple
  • Corn Syrup
  • Agave Nectar

That isn’t even counting the chemically derived sugars that are made in a lab. Here is a good list from Cynthia Thurlow on some of the Sneaky Sugars you may find on Ingredient Lists:

Items in packaged food Ingredient Lists are listed by weight in the food. This is where use of a WIDE VARIETY of “sugars” comes in handy. Manufacturers can use multiple different types of sugar so each one is in a lower quantity and therefore moving on down on the LOOOOONG list of ingredients.

A well informed consumer knows to flip the box and read the list on a granola bar, box of cereal, tub of yogurt or even jar of pasta sauce before tossing it into their grocery cart. They scan the first line or two and if they don’t see “SUGAR” figure, oh, it’s a good, “low-sugar” choice. Maybe…maybe not. Look for these other pseudonyms and all the other ingredients before making that choice.

Well, all these sugars would add up to grams of sugar on the Nutrition Facts label, right? Again, not always so clear, but getting better.

The Nutrition Facts label lists Total Sugar and Added Sugar. Added sugar separates out the naturally occurring sugar. In applesauce for example; there is naturally occurring sugar in the apples themselves, but…if they add sugar or corn syrup to further sweeten it, that would come under Added Sugar. Beginning to make sense?

I want to share an example that drives home ALL the points I’ve made thus far about SNEAKY SUGAR.

Frosted Flakes Cereal vs. NutriGrain Cereal Bar.

I posted this question last week to see if people could guess which had more sugar. The votes were heavier for the Frosted Flakes. I understand why, too. The adjective “Frosted” in the name implies COATED with sugar. The prefix “Nutri” implies nutritious breakfast bar, not to mention all the creative labeling;

  • Strawberries implying real fruit
  • Whole Grain and Good Source of Fiber

You would think this breakfast bar was like a bowl of oatmeal with sliced strawberries, in bar form. Not quite – NOT. AT. ALL.

Truth – by the numbers – see the info on one serving size below.

Frosted Flakes Cereal Label
NutriGrain Breakfast bar Nutrition Label from
NutriGrain Breakfast Bar Ingredient List from

The NutriGrain bar has MORE total sugar, MORE added sugar and LESS fiber than the Frosted Flakes.

Let the effect of food label marketing versus reality sink in….

Now let’s go just a bit deeper and check the Ingredient Lists. The length of the lists alone is eye opening. The Frosted Flakes list Sugar – one form, one name. The NutriGrain bar, I did you a favor and highlighted the Sneaky Sugars – 8.

The take away?

  • Read labels, don’t be fooled by marketing and branding tricks.
  • Check the Nutrition Facts for total versus added sugar, though it’s really all just sugar.
  • Check Ingredient List for lengthy lists of chemical-sounding names and watch for sneaky sugar pseudonyms.
  • And enjoy that ice cream cone or homemade chocolate chip cookie for the delectable dessert it is. Moderation not depravation – make your choice and don’t be fooled.

I want to thank everyone that replied to my posts and voted and commented on which they thought had more sugar and the great questions that inspired me to dig deeper in this blog post. And to Cynthia Thurlow for sharing such a helpful graphic. Check her site, social media and podcast for more great information on the real issues with sugar.

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