Making sense of food labels when it comes to sugar

When following a healthy diet and trying to lose weight it is important know how to read food labels, especially when it comes to added SUGAR.
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It’s not easy to understand food labels sometimes, especially exactly how much sugar is in each product?

Sugar may be public enemy number one at the moment, but let’s make very clear that it is ‘added sugars’ or ‘free sugars’ that we want to reduce from out diet to promote good health.

Naturally occurring sugars can be enjoyed within a well-balanced diet that promotes good health.

Nikki Boswell, one of our fabulous Healthy Mummy Nutritionists has provided some information and tips about how to make sense of food labels and what to look out for when reducing sugar in your diet…


More about ‘free sugars’

Are those which have been added to foods during processing, cooking and preparation, while naturally occurring sugars are found within whole foods such as fruits and come with the additional benefits of a range of other nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fibre in substantial amounts.

It is important to be clear here that honey, maple syrup, agar nectar etc. are still considered ‘free sugars’ even though they are ‘naturally occurring’ as they are not foods typically eaten on their own but rather added to foods we are preparing.

Now here is where things get even trickier. Foods such as yoghurt and fruit juice contain naturally occurring sugar but more than likely also contain ‘added sugar.’ So how do you know if the sugar in a product is naturally occurring or ‘added?’


How added / free sugar is listed

Unfortunately, in Australia, ‘added/free sugar’ doesn’t have to be listed on the Nutrient Information Panel (NIP) of products, but rather a figure for total sugar (added/free sugar + naturally occurring sugar) is listed.

It is required, however, that any added sugar be identified in the products ingredients list, remembering that ingredients are listed in descending order by weight so the higher on the list an ingredient is placed, the more of it that is contained within the product.

To add to the confusion further, added sugar might be listed under the names: Sucrose, Mannitol, Golden syrup, Maltose, Sorbitol, Raw sugar, Lactose, Xylitol, Brown sugar, Dextrose, Palm Sugar, Cane sugar, Coconut sugar, Agar syrup/nectar, Rice malt syrup, Fructose, Treacle, Molasses, Glucose/ syrup, Honey, Malt, “Modified carbohydrate,” Corn Syrup, Fruit juice extract and more!

Now here is where we get back to the NIP to work out how much of the sugar in the product is added and how much is naturally occurring.

To keep it simple:

  • For a product with no fruit (as a source of naturally occurring sugar) then we should aim for products that have 5g of sugar per 100g or less (5%).
  • If the product does contain fruit (such as dried fruit, fruit pieces or purees) than up to 15g of sugar per 100g is acceptable (15%).
  • In the case of yoghurt we know there is roughly 4g – 6g of naturally occurring sugar from lactose (depending on the fat content) per 100g, so any sugar above this level is coming from another source.

As far as front of pack claims go:

  • If a product claims to be ‘Reduced Sugar’ it must contain 25% less sugar than the original or similar product.
  • A ‘Low Sugar‘ label means the product must contain less than 5g of sugar per 100g for food or 2.5g per 100g for beverages.
  • No Added Sugar‘ claims can be applied to products that contain no added sugar but they may still be high in naturally occurring sugars such as in fruit.
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