How to Decipher Sugar Labels

When you are trying to cut sugar out of your diet due to sugar intolerance or other health reasons, it may seem like a simple task to reach for things in the store that are labeled “no sugar” or “sugar-free.” But these labels are actually clever food marketing techniques and may not be what they seem. In fact, the terms do not even mean the same thing, and they do not necessarily make a food choice healthy. You will likely also see foods labeled as containing “natural sugar,” which can be another food marketing term. Investigating the label further will help you decide whether or not the item is suitable for sugar intolerance. As you begin your diet formulated for sugar intolerance, here is a primer on what these terms mean, so that you can make sure that you are staying on track.

No Sugar Added

The Federal Food and Drug Administration is in charge of regulating what labels manufacturers can use on their products. “No sugar added” indicates that no sugar or sugar containing substance is added during processing. These sugars include honey, molasses, high-fructose corn syrup, malt syrup and cane syrup. What you need to know is that products with this label do not necessarily contain no sugar, just no added sugar. These products may contain natural sugar, such as dairy products that have lactose. This is why you must learn to read labels on the back of boxes and avoid ingredients that contain –ose at the end. According to the MayoClinic, this is how manufacturers sneak sugar into the products.


Sugar-free labels mean that a product contains less than 0.5 grams of sugar, from added or naturally occurring sources. The product may not be entirely free of sugar, but low enough that it meets the requirement of less than 0.5 grams per serving. Keep this in mind if you tend to eat more than one serving, or need to completely eliminate sugar from your diet due to sugar intolerance. In many cases, sugar-free labels are safe, but read the back label for more details and to see if the product does indeed contain a miniscule amount of sugar.

All Natural Sugar

All natural sugar is not a label that is approved by the FDA, but it is a term that you will find when you try to eliminate sugar. According to Cancer Treatment Centers of America, all natural sugar is found in foods like fruits and dairy products, where they occur naturally. These foods provide essential nutrients and are considered safe for cancer patients, but they may cause problems for those with sugar intolerance. By contrast, refined sugars are added to various products and have been linked to cancer as well as other health problems, according to The Mayo Clinic.

Always read the labels because products that are labeled “no sugar added,” “sugar-free” and “all natural sugar” may also contain artificial sugars. Artificial sugars are usually listed as aspartame, acesulfame potassium, saccharin, sucralose and neotame. Although they are considered safe to ingest, they have been found to have links to glucose intolerance, so you should avoid them if you have sugar sensitivity.

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