How corporations play with labels

Do you know what have the following 36 names in common?

Blackstrap molasses, Buttered syrup, Cane juice crystals, Evaporated cane juice, Caramel, Carob syrup, Fruit juice, Honey, Fruit juice concentrate, Brown rice syrup, Corn syrup solids, Golden syrup, Maple syrup, Molasses, Refiner’s syrup, Sorghum syrup, Sucanat, Treacle, Turbinado, Barley malt, Corn syrup, Dextrin, Dextrose, Diastatic malt, Ethyl maltol, Glucose, Glucose solids, Lactose, Malt syrup, Maltose, D-ribose, Rice syrup, Galactose, Maltodextrin, Castor.

If you’ve been reading food labels to help limit foods that contain sugar, you might not recognize all the names manufacturers are using. Sugar, sucrose and fructose are fairly recognizable. However, did you know Dextrin, Ethyl Maltol and Panela are also sugars used to sweeten your foods?

Food companies may also claim their product has no “refined sugar.” This means the product doesn’t contain white sugar, but it doesn’t mean it has no sugar.

There are no current studies that support the use of other types of reportedly “healthier” sweeteners as added sugar when you’re already eating too much sugar in the first place.

These products may be labeled as “healthier” as they originate from plant or animal sources, such as honey or fruit. But, adding sugar to products that in turn boost your daily intake of added sugar only increases your overall risk of damage to your health.

For several years the corn industry used advertising to convince consumers that eating high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) was no different than eating any other type of sugar. But, as media attention to research grew, consumers became wise to the idea that HFCS was not the healthy alternative manufacturers were claiming. The same is true for fructose. Your body can easily metabolize and use glucose, but fructose is only metabolized in your liver(1). This increases your risk of dyslipidemia (abnormal cholesterol and lipid levels) and insulin resistance.

High amounts of fructose in your diet have been linked to metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, fatty liver, kidney disease, cardiovascular disease and insulin resistance(2,3,4). Although limiting your overall sugar intake is important, tracking the amount of fructose you eat and limiting it to 25 grams or less a day is also key to your health.

Agave nectar is marketed as a healthier choice among sweeteners, but is between 70 and 90 percent fructose(5). Knowledge of the research and health effects of fructose is important if you want to be as healthy as possible. Your best chance of making permanent health changes come when you have a good understanding and belief about why you’re making the change.

About labels

There are different types of dry and syrup sugars that may go unnoticed as you read the labels. Remember that food labels list ingredients in order of their appearance in the product. There is more of the first ingredient than the second and so forth. This means that although sugar may appear in the fourth position of the product label you’re reading, it may not be the fourth largest ingredient overall. If a different type of sugar is listed in the sixth, eighth and tenth positions, the combined total may put sugar in the second position.


1. Diabetes, July 2005; 54(7): 1907-1913

2. Current Opinions in Lipidology, June 2013; 24(3): 198-206

3. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, October 2007; 86(4): 899

4. Journal of Clinical Investigation, May 2009; 119(5): 1322-1324

5. Authority Nutrition, Agave Nectar: A Sweetener That is Even Worse Than Sugar