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February 2023

How to Identify Natural and Added Sugar on the Nutrition Label

Nutrition labels were designed to help consumers understand the nutritional value of foods they purchase. However, often they are confusing and difficult to decipher. The FDA has revised these labels to make it easier to identify some key nutrients, specifically sugar content.  Let’s take a closer look.

Natural versus Added Sugars
Natural occurring sugars are those found in carbohydrates, especially fruits and, to a lesser degree, in dairy products.

Added sugars include sugars that food manufacturers add to products to add flavor or extend shelf-life.  These are generally in highly processed foods, including baked goods, candy and soft drinks. If you add sugar to coffee or tea, this is also considered added sugar.

Check the ingredient list for added sugar: the higher up on the list, the more sugar in the product. Brown sugar, honey, high-fructose corn syrup and raw sugar are all added sugars.

Added sugars are more likely to cause a spike in blood sugar, which over time may lead to insulin resistance, diabetes and heart disease. Too much added sugar increases the risk for high blood pressure, fatty liver, and inflammation.

Nutrition Facts Label
Use the nutrition label to cut back on sugar. Current Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting added sugars to less than 10% of calories per day. The change is based on nutrition science and the revised nutrition label makes it easier to identify.

  • The label divides sugar into two groups: added sugars and total sugars.
  • The total sugar reflects both the naturally occurring and added sugar.
  • Limit calories from added sugar. Women limit to 6 tsp or 25 grams: Men 9 tsp or 38 grams.  This is based on 2000 calories per day.
  • If you are diabetic, have elevated triglycerides, cholesterol, inflammation or high blood pressure, it would be wise to cut added sugar back even further.
  • To make healthier food choices, look for foods that have “single-digit” grams of added sugar and be sure to check the portion size.


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