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Do food manufacturers hide sugars on food labels?

lady comparing labels on food productWhy are sugars added to foods?

Sugars are not just added to food for sweetness or flavour enhancement. Sugar is a multi-tasking ingredient that provides a range of other functions in food including preserving, adding colour via caramelisation, lowering the freezing point in frozen desserts like ice cream, adding bulk, volume and soft texture in baked goods, forming gels, and creating a thicker mouth feel. When sugar is taken out of foods, additional food additives are required to make up the deficit and these are often no healthier (and sometimes worse) than the sugar.

Why are there so many different names for sugars?

Sugars are a diverse group consisting of monosaccharides and disaccharides.

Monosaccharides: glucose, fructose, galactose

Disaccharides: sucrose (eg cane sugar), lactose (milk sugar), maltose (malt/grain sugar)

Just like there is a range of different sugars you can use in your kitchen (brown, white, caster, raw, honey, maple syrup etc), there are a range of sugar ingredients for different purposes in manufactured foods.

Different sugars from sugar cane

Brown sugar

Cane sugar 

Coffee sugar crystals

Confectioner's sugar       

Caster sugar 


Icing Sugar



Powdered sugar


Raw sugar 






White sugar

Golden syrup



Cooks know there are a variety of cane sugars with different colours, flavours and textures to suit different applications. For example, turbinado sugar is minimally refined with course texture and medium brown colour and works well in muffins and biscuits and crème caramel, and golden syrup is perfect in ANZAC biscuits.

Sugars from different sources

Beet sugar                

Coconut sugar               

Agave nectar/syrup      

Barley malt

Carob syrup

Corn syrup

Date sugar/syrup


Fruit juice

Fruit juice concentrate       


Grape sugar/syrup 

High-fructose corn syrup     


Invert sugar




Maple syrup            

Palm sugar

Rice syrup

Sugar cane is not the only plant source of sugar and non-traditional sources of sugar are popular as there is a perception they are healthier. Of course sugar is sugar, and has similar energy content no matter where it comes from.

What are the rules around labelling of sugars in Australasia?

The Nutrition Information panel
In Australia and New Zealand, food labels are required to comply with the Food Standards Code (FSC). The FSC requires foods to label total sugars on the nutrition information panel (NIP). Total sugars include all naturally present (eg fructose, lactose) and added sugars (eg sucrose, glucose).

The Ingredients list
The FSC also requires food labels to list ingredients in descending order by weight. 

This means if sugar appears in the first few ingredients of the ingredients list, it is a high sugar food.

Ingredients must be declared using one of the following, and must be accurate and sufficiently detailed to ensure they are not false, misleading or deceptive:

  1. The common name of the ingredient
  2. A name that describes the true nature of the ingredient
  3. A generic name for the ingredient (‘sugar’ is permitted as a generic ingredient name)

The FSANZ Ingredient Labelling for Foods User Guide to Standard 1.2.4 says the generic term ‘sugar’ may be used to describe: white sugar, white refined sugar, caster sugar, castor sugar, loaf sugar, cube sugar, icing sugar, coffee sugar, coffee crystals, or raw sugar.

‘Sugars’ may not be used to collectively describe more than one type of sugar added to a food. Rather, individual sugars must be listed separately, for example lactose, fructose etc.

Food additives
Food additives are considered ingredients and must be listed on the ingredients list by order of weight, by additive class (eg preservatives or colours etc) AND either name or code number. There are no sugars used as food additives, but some starch-based additives have names that end with “–ose”, such as polydextrose or hydrogenated glucose syrup (also called maltitol).

Why aren’t added sugars labelled separately?

Natural and added sugars cannot be separated by analytical methods as they are chemically identical. The difficulty of distinguishing between natural sugars and sugars added by the manufacturer on food labels had led to calls for regulatory change. FSANZ is currently considering the inclusion of added sugars to ingredients lists as recommended by Labelling Logic-the Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy (also called the Blewett report, 2011).ie

Recommendation 12: where sugars... are added as separate ingredients in a food, the terms ‘added sugars’... be used in the ingredient list as the generic term, followed by a bracketed list (e.g, added sugars (fructose, glucose syrup, honey)...

What is the situation with sugars labelling in other comparable countries?

On May 20, the United States FDA (Food and Drug Administration) announced the new Nutrition Facts Label for packaged foods with a new requirement to list “added sugars” in grams, and as a percent Daily Value. They have done this to assist their population to achieve the World Health Organisation (WHO) target of less than 10% total energy from added sugars.

NEXT: Low Carb High Fat diets for sports performance 

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