06/05/2014 10:10 pm ET Updated Aug 05, 2014

Shocking Sugar Facts

If you get a chance to see the documentary Fed Up, you should. Although I didn't find it fun or easy to watch this exposé about the sugar in packaged food and what it does to us, the movie was eye-opening. Fed Up is not a perfect film -- far from it. Still, ever since I saw it a couple of weeks ago, I find myself scrutinizing every food label I come across.


I'm not a sugar-hating fanatic. In fact, my credentials as a chocoholic and dessert-lover are unimpeachable. If you doubt me, check out the desserts on my blog or read how my love affair with candied ginger has played out in everything from poundcake to cheesecake.

But I like to know what I'm eating. Whether it's sugar or anything else, don't try to slip one by me, please. Ingredients are listed on packaged food labels in quantity order, with the highest quantity ingredient listed first. If a form of sugar or any other sweetener is listed among the first several ingredients, that's a big "beware" sign. Of course, even if no single sweetener is among the top ingredients, there may be several hidden throughout the list, which together may add up to a hefty dose of sugar/sweeteners.

Some added sweeteners are easy to spot; they contain "sugar" or a similarly obvious word. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that brown sugar, confectioners sugar, and bar sugar are sweeteners.


But how about brown rice syrup? That one fooled me. And what about jaggery or panela or piloncillo? Many of us recognize high fructose corn syrup, but did you know that diastatic malt is an added sweetener?

Unless you know a lot of chemistry and several foreign languages, you need a list. So here is mine. At the moment it stands at 115 names for sugar (in many forms) and other added sweeteners, in alphabetical order. Do you have names to add? If so, leave them in a comment below or on the MotherWouldKnow Facebook page, or tweet them to me

After committing to read through the ingredient list on everything I buy, I got the unsettled feeling that I was finding out more than I wanted to know. I felt almost pleased when an ingredient was simply and definitely a type of sugar that I might have used myself. Granulated sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar and maple syrup hardly seem like the enemy. It was the sweeteners with the chemical names I can't pronounce, much less remember, that caused me to wonder whether compiling a list of sweeteners was a good idea.

I like farmers' markets and home-baked goods. But I haven't moved off the grocery grid completely and I like an occasional Oreo cookie or ice cream bar. I won't give them up, but I've started to do the "sugar math" on everything that has a label and I am making changes. A few less grams here and there may not lead to rapid weight loss, but over time I'm convinced that it's a good strategy for overall better health. And while I'm cutting down the sweeteners, I'm eating less packaged food and fewer chemicals. That can't be bad.

Do you want to know how much sugar is hidden in your food? If you're ready for the truth, click here.