40 Sneaky Nicknames for Sugar You Might Not Recognize

Updated: Jun. 05, 2020

Just because the word "sugar" isn't on a food label's ingredients list doesn't mean there are no sugary sweeteners in your food. Here are the terms to know.

Sugars with healthy-sounding names

When reading food labels, ingredients such as honey, coconut sugar, date sugar, Rapadura, caster sugar, golden sugar, palm sugar, and Turbinado sugar are eight things that sure sound “healthier” than plain old sugar. However, says Kris Sollid, RD, director of nutrients at the International Food Information Council Foundation, these sweeteners have chemical structures similar to regular sugar, and that means the body uses them in similar ways. “Some people may believe exotic-sounding sweeteners are better for them, but that’s not the case,” says Sollid. “Our bodies don’t prioritize sugars by their name or country of origin.” 

Registered dietitian nutritionist Malina Linkas Malkani, RD, a media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, adds that coconut sugar, for example, provides the same number of calories as table sugar. “Coconut sugar offers trace amounts of some minerals but not enough to make a material difference in a person’s health,” says Malkani, who is also creator of the Wholitarian Lifestyle. Similarly, date sugar (made from ground dates) also contains more minerals than table sugar, but it is still low in nutrients and concentrated in calories. Tricky, right? Watch out for these foods that are secret sources of added sugar.

Colorful hard candy lollipop on yellow pastel background. Rainbow sweet pattern on stick flying around. Christmas holiday design concept elements.
Dilara Mammadova/Shutterstock

Syrups or nectars

If you count syrup and nectar variations used as sweeteners in processed foods, the number of sneaky hidden sugar nicknames starts to really add up. Common ones include brown rice syrup, high fructose corn syrup, cane syrup, rice syrup, malt, coconut nectar, agave nectar, blackstrap molasses, carob syrup, golden syrup, maple syrup, sorghum syrup, simple syrup, tapioca syrup, birch syrup, sugar beet syrup and yacon syrup. “Words like syrup and nectar may sound better than sugar or high fructose corn syrup, but don’t assume that syrups and nectars are any better for you,” Sollid warns. “All sugars are made up of a mixture of glucose, fructose, and galactose.” Similarly, says Malkani, people often assume agave is especially “healthier” because it’s a vegan honey alternative. “However, agave syrup also has a higher fructose content than any other common sweetener, and emerging research suggests a connection between the way that fructose is metabolized in the liver and an increase in risk for obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes,” she says. Here are the ways sugar is making you sick.

Orange juice glass with straw

Juice variations

Some manufacturers use fruit juice concentrates, which sounds wholesome but the body processes them the same as sugar. The juices to keep an eye out for on labels are fruit juice, cane juice, evaporated cane juice, fruit juice concentrate, and grape juice concentrate. “Syrups, nectars, concentrated juices and other sugars affect blood sugar similarly and deliver roughly the same number of calories,” Malkani says. There are roughly 15 to 20 calories per teaspoon.

Silver metal energy drinks cans on bright pink background
Tom Eversley/Shutterstock

Ingredients ending in “ose”

Dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, ribose, sucrose, saccharose, and galactose are a few more examples you might see on a food label. These ingredients ending in “ose” are… you guessed it… simply different types of sugars, Sollid points out. Sucrose, for example, is the scientific name for table sugar. Glucose is the form of sugar that circulates in the blood and is used for energy in human cells. And fructose is the naturally occurring form of sugar found in honey, fruits, and root vegetables, according to Malkani. “Names for different sugars have specific meanings, whether it be the scientific name for a type of sugar, like fructose, or the standard of identity of a product like maple syrup,” Sollid says. “It’s the amount of sugars added to foods that people should pay attention to, not their names.” 

Sugar destroys the tooth enamel and leads to tooth decay. Sugar cubes are laid out in the form of a tooth on a blue background.

You could have a sweet tooth and still be healthy

According to Sollid, Americans eat way more sugar than is recommended and that could lead to health issues. “First, added sugar is a source of calories, and eating too many calories can lead to weight gain,” he says. And overeating sugar could make it challenging to get all the nutrients you need from other foods without overeating. That said, sugar in limited amounts isn’t bad, according to Malkani. It becomes an issue in excess. She suggests getting familiar with the many misleading names for added sugars that show up in processed foods. And always check out the ingredients list. “Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight,” she says. “A good rule of thumb is to limit foods that list any type of added sugar as its first two ingredients.” Another good goal is to limit your total daily calories from added sugars to less than 10 percent. Next, check out the scary effects of sugar on the body.