Reading food labels provides us with valuable information that can make it easier to find the products that best fit our nutritional needs. They can also be confusing.
For example, did you know the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has definitions for “low sodium,” “low fat,” “low calorie,” “low cholesterol,” “sugar-free” and “lower sugar” – claims which appear on food labels? And did you know the claims “sugar free” and “no added sugar” don’t mean the same thing?
If you’re trying to control the amount of sugar in your diet, understanding the labels of “sugar free foods” can help make your shopping trips less confusing – and that’s sweet!
How to Read Food Labels: What Sugar Free Foods Are
When reading food labels, the first thing you need to know is how the FDA defines “sugars.” White and brown sugar, high fructose corn syrup, honey, as well as other sugars found in fruit, fruit juice and milk products fall under FDA’s definition of sugar. No-calorie sweeteners, such as SPLENDA® Sweeteners (sucralose or stevia) and polyols (sugar alcohols), do not.
Then there’s the word “free.” Even when sugar free foods carry the claim “zero sugar,” “no sugar,” “sugarless” and “without sugar” FDA allows that they can have a small amount of sugar. The amount (less than 0.5 grams per serving) is so small that the calories and carbohydrate would be expected to have no meaningful effect in usual meal planning.
This brings us to the claims “no added sugars,” “without added sugars” and “no sugar added.” They are allowed on foods that replace those which normally contain added sugars and have not had sugar or any other ingredient containing sugar added during processing. These foods differ from sugar free foods with “sugar free” claims because they may contain naturally occurring sources of sugar, like a “no added sugar” ice cream containing lactose from the milk. They also can be sweetened with no-calorie sweeteners.
What Sugar Free Foods Are Not
Now that you know what “sugar” and “free” mean in food labeling you need to know what those terms don’t mean. The most important distinction is “sugar free” does not mean “carbohydrate free.” While it’s true that all sugars are carbohydrate, all carbohydrate is not a sugar. Comparing the carbohydrate content on the Nutrition Facts panel of similar products where a “sugar free” claim is made on one, but not the other, will let you see if there really is much difference.
“Sugar free” and “no added sugar” claims also do not always mean “calorie free.” In fact, products carrying those claims must state “not a low calorie food,” unless they meet the criteria for a low or reduced calorie food.
Sweetening Your Lower Sugar Diet
Once you’ve figured out what the best products are for you, you can add a little sweetness using one of the many SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener Products available, such as packets for your coffee and iced tea and the granulated form which is ideal for cooking and baking. If you want to add a little sugar, the white and brown SPLENDA® Sugar Blends contain a mix of sugar and sucralose for recipes where a little of both is best. And don’t forget about SPLENDA® Naturals Stevia Sweetener. You can find more ways to use all of these SPLENDA® Products in the Cooking & Baking section of SPLENDA LIVING™.
Life can be sweet if you know how to read the labels on sugar free foods!
- U.S. FDA. Guidance for Industry: A Food Labeling Guide (Appendix A: Definitions of Nutrient Content Claims) January 2013. http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm064911.htm
- U.S. FDA. Code of Regulations Title 21, Volume 2. Part 101 – Food Labeling. April 1, 2014. http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfCFR/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=101.60
- USDA ChooseMyPlate. What are added sugars? https://www.choosemyplate.gov/what-are-added-sugars
I have been compensated for my time by Heartland Food Products Group, the maker of SPLENDA® Sweetener Products. All statements and opinions are my own. I have pledged to Blog with Integrity, asserting that the trust of my readers and the blogging community is vitally important to me.
For more information about sugar-free and reduced sugar foods, visit the Sugar Substitutes section of this blog.
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Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN, “The Everyday RD,” is an author and nutrition consultant who has headed the nutrition services department in a large teaching hospital and maintained a private practice where she provided diet therapy to individuals and families. With more than 30 years of experience, Robyn is motivated by the opportunity to help people make the best eating decisions for their everyday diet. She believes that choosing what to eat should not be a daily battle and aims to separate the facts from the fiction so you can enjoy eating well.