5 Different Ways to Spot Sugar on a Label

In the past decade, there has been much attention given to sugar and how it affects our health. We could sit here for ages and discuss why it’s beneficial to keep sugar intake to a healthy minimumfrom reducing type 2 diabetes risk to preventing early teeth decay and even wrinkles. You may be already working toward decreasing the amount of sugar in your diet, but do you know the different forms of sugar used and how they can be presented in a food label ingredient list? Here are five different names for sugar, what they are and common foods they may be found in.

Anhydrous Dextrose

Anhydrous dextrose (a.k.a. “dextrose”) is a simple sugar that gives fruit and honey a sweet taste. Corn syrup is its primary ingredient and it is often added to processed baked goods because it gives them a nice brown color. It is also used in cake mixes, frosting and certain cold desserts such as custard and sherbet. Another similar form of dextrose you may see on a label is maltodextrin.

Corn Syrup Solids and High-Fructose Corn Syrup

Corn syrup is 100% glucosethe most simple form of sugar. To make corn syrup solids, food manufacturers dehydrate corn syrup to form solids that are only 10% water, and they use these dried products in powdered drink mixes like instant coffee. High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is unfortunately much more commonly used. To make it, you start with corn syrup in the liquid form but instead of dehydrating it, you leave it as a liquid and add fructose. High-fructose corn syrup is much more common in foods and is usually found in soda, cookies and even ketchup. HFCS is probably the most commonly used form of sugar to this day due to corn being one of the most commonly cultivated grains.

Evaporated Cane Juice

Evaporated cane juice is the juice of the sugar cane which is filtered and evaporated into a syrup, then crystallized and cured. It is a common form of sugar used in some organic products, and some people have thought of this sweetener as healthier than others. But don’t be fooled—your body metabolizes evaporated sugar just like table sugar and it is not a healthier alternative. Common sources include organic protein bars, granola and cereals.

Liquid Fructose

Liquid fructose is about 99% fructose and is produced by dissolving crystalline fructose to form a liquid. It is clear, colorless and intensely sweet. This one may not be as common as high-fructose corn syrup, but look out for it in all different types of products such as boba tea or other sugary drinks.

Malt Syrup

Malt syrup, or barley malt syrup, is an unrefined sweetener produced from sprouted (i.e. malted) barley and contains 65% maltose, 30% complex carbohydrates and 3% protein. Malt syrup is dark brown, sticky and has a distinct flavor. It is about half as sweet as regular sugar and is commonly paired with other sweeteners to give a malty flavor. Common products with malt syrup include breads, cakes, cookies, candy, beans and more.

While there are many forms of sugar that may be included in food products, these five are some of the most common. Remember: Just because the word “sugar” isn’t on the ingredient list doesn’t mean there is no sugar, so read your food labels carefully!


Gabriella is a registered dietitian living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She currently works in corporate wellness as a dietitian and overall wellness coach. She also runs a food blog called Macrobalanced, where she shows people that healthy and balanced eating can be interesting and tasty! She enjoys all things fitness from lifting heavy weights in the gym to hitting the barre. Nothing is off limits as long as sweat is involved. When she is not cooking or sweating, she is playing with her dog Maui, a lively German Shepherd. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook.