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30 Sugars Hiding in Your Food (plus how to watch out for them)

The amount of sugar the average American consumes daily has drastically increased over the last few centuries. Today, as many as 75% of Americans eat more sugar than they need (1). This can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and several other major illnesses (2, 3).


Here’s the kicker: Sugar isn’t just in the obvious sweet stuff (think: ice cream, cookies, and brownies). It’s in hundreds of foods that you’d never expect—fruit juice, canned fruit, cereals, trail mix, ketchup, salad dressings, and processed meat, just to name a few.


Because sugar goes by so many different names, it’s not always easy to spot in a product’s ingredient list. This makes cutting it out of your diet tricky, yet essential. In this article, you’ll learn what happens to the body when you consume sugar, plus 30 different sugars to look for before adding a food or beverage to your grocery cart.

What Happens Inside the Body When You Consume Sugar

Your brain responds to sugar similarly to the way it would respond to cocaine (4). When you bite into a food high in sugar, you feel a rush of feel-good brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine (5). But these happy feelings are short-lived. Once you come down from that initial high, you want to experience it again and again—to the detriment of your health.


Once sugar is in your system, your insulin will spike in an attempt to regulate your blood sugar. Insulin is a hormone tasked with keeping sugar levels consistent in your blood, and absorbing excess sugar as needed (6).


Thanks to insulin, your blood sugar will drop down to a more normal level. That process is what creates the infamous sugar crash: that early sugar rush feeling wears off, leaving you feeling exhausted and possibly cranky (7).


If you eat or drink lots of sugar regularly, you might find yourself feeling frequently drained, extra hungry, or extra thirsty (8). This is because your insulin is working super hard to stabilize your blood sugar levels. It can be made even worse by the fact that simple sugars are lacking in energy-boosting nutrients like protein and fiber. Frequent consumption of added sugars has been linked to high levels of daytime fatigue (9). Put simply, a sugar-filled snack or meal is a ticket to exhaustion.

The Impact of Sugar Over Time

If you regularly eat high amounts of sugar (more than 25 or 30 grams per day for men and women, respectively), the downsides go far beyond what you’ll feel in the short term…


Sugar is high in excess calories and low in protein and fiber, meaning you’ll need to eat a lot of sugary foods in order to feel full, while still missing out on the nutrients your body needs. This can lead to weight gain. So much so that excess sugar consumption has been linked to obesity, which can, in turn, lead to insulin resistance, which can then lead to diabetes (10, 11).


If you’re a more visual person, here’s what happens when you eat high amounts of sugar for a long period of time:


High Sugar Consumption → Weight Gain → Insulin Resistance → Diabetes


Sugar can also increase your risk of severe health issues like heart disease (12). It can increase how quickly you age by breaking down collagen, and as you were probably warned as a kid, sugar can cause tooth decay (13, 14).

30 Sugars to Look for on Ingredient Labels

Added sugars have a knack for hiding in plain sight on ingredient labels. This is because sugars can go by dozens of different names, and a lot of them are a bit misleading.


While there’s no “right” amount of sugar to eat each day (less is better), it’s helpful to be aware of roughly how many grams you’re taking in. Take a look at the nutrition labels on your food and keep an eye out for any of the names listed below.


When you have a choice, opt for lower-sugar options in your snacks and meals. For example, choose fruit instead of fruit juice, and water instead of soda. The less processed a food is, the better.


Types of sugars you might see on nutrition labels:

  • Glucose: a type of sugar that can be metabolized by every cell in your body (15)
  • Fructose: a type of sugar that’s metabolized almost entirely in the liver (16)
  • Sucrose: also known as table sugar, sucrose consists of 50% glucose and 50% fructose
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS): produced via cornstarch and contains both glucose and fructose
  • Agave Nectar/Syrup: a sweetener produced from agave plants that contain high levels of fructose and glucose


Nutrition labels also list added sugars, which contain varying levels of glucose and fructose under the following names:

  • Galactose (does not contain glucose or fructose)
  • D-Ribose (does not contain glucose or fructose)
  • Brown Sugar
  • Powdered Sugar
  • Cane Sugar
  • Lactose
  • Maltose
  • Beet Sugar
  • Buttered Syrup
  • Caramel
  • Carob Syrup
  • Castor Sugar
  • Confectioner’s Sugar
  • Fruit Juice
  • Honey
  • Molasses
  • Sorghum Syrup
  • Refiner’s Syrup
  • Barley Malt
  • Malt Syrup
  • Maltodextrin
  • Ethyl Maltol
  • Crystalline Fructose
  • Yellow Sugar
  • Turbinado Sugar

The Bottom Line

Americans eat around 17 teaspoons of added sugar per day (17). Added sugar increases your risk for diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and other health issues. While there’s no need to worry about small amounts of naturally occurring sugars in fruits or other whole foods, added sugars are a dangerous ingredient. Curb your sugar consumption by regularly reading nutrition labels and learning the lesser-known names for the sweet stuff.

Frequently Asked Questions

What's the worst type of sugar?

All added sugars are cause for concern. Among added sugars, the worst of the worst are those that contain fructose—especially high-fructose corn syrup. Studies have found that fructose is more harmful to health than glucose (18).


Research on high-fructose corn syrup regularly sparks controversy among scientists, but it’s been associated with obesity, and fructose has been linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes (19, 20).

Fructose is harder for the body to absorb, and much of it is processed through the liver, which increases the risk for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and metabolic issues (21, 22). Research has also indicated that eating excess fructose on a high-calorie diet can raise triglyceride levels in the blood (23).

Which is worse: sugar or sugar alcohol?

Each ingredient has its own issues, but sugar alcohol is not a real sugar, and generally isn’t associated with as many health risks as sugar. Sugar alcohol tastes sweet like sugar, but has a different chemical structure than sugar. As a result, it’s more difficult for your body to absorb. This can lead to stomach pain, bloating, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal issues (24).


Because sugar alcohol doesn’t impact blood sugar levels as strongly as real sugar, it’s a great option for people with diabetes who want to enjoy something sweet. Sugar alcohol has fewer calories, and unlike sugar, it doesn’t come along with a risk of tooth decay.

How many grams of sugar per day?

Humans aren’t really meant to eat added sugars in the first place. Added sugars did not exist in the early human diet, and there’s a reason for that! Of course, in the modern world, we are all going to come into contact with it. So while you should aim to consume as little sugar as possible, the FDA suggests that you aim to keep the calories you consume from added sugar under 10% of your daily total calories (25).

What are healthy sources of natural sugar?

Natural sugar can be found in foods like bananas, berries, apples, dates, carrots, beets, and sweet potatoes. Foods like these offer your body sugar without sending your blood glucose levels for the wild ride that added sugars create.

As a writer, editor, and wellness seeker, Claire has written for Self, Health, Prevention, CNN, Mic, Livestrong, and Greatist, just to name a few. When she's not writing, she specializes in traveling, getting lost in health-related research rabbit holes, and finding new ways to spoil her cat.

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Medical Disclaimer
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.

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