No sugar added versus sugar free is a commonly asked question. With so many claims posted on food labels, it can be confusing to determine which products are the healthiest. “No sugar added” and “sugar free” are popular statements on food packages, but they do not mean the same thing. Neither of these terms necessarily mean that a food is healthy, and you will likely need to further investigate the food label to determine exactly what is in the product.
No Sugar Added
The Federal Food and Drug Administration regulates what food manufactures can claim on a label. According to the FDA, the statement “no sugar added” can only be used if no sugar or sugar-containing ingredient is used during processing. Sugar-containing ingredients covered under this standard include honey, molasses, high-fructose corn syrup, malt syrup and cane syrup. For example, some ice creams are labeled “no sugar added” because they have not been sweetened with sugar, but they are not sugar free because they contain lactose, a natural milk sugar.
The FDA guidelines require that a food must contain less than 0.5 grams of sugar per serving to be labeled as “sugar free.” This includes naturally occurring forms of sugar and any ingredient that contains sugar. Technically, the food product does not have to be completely free of sugar, as long as it meets the per-serving requirement. While half a gram of sugar is rather insignificant, keep this fact in mind if you plan to consume multiple servings of a food.
The terms “sugar free” and “no sugar added” do not give you any information about artificial sweeteners. Products carrying either of these claims on the label may include artificial sweeteners. Read the ingredients list to identify what kind of sweeteners are contained in a food. Aspartame, acesulfame potassium, saccharin, sucralose and neotame are examples of artificial sweeteners that can be found in sugar-free or no-sugar-added foods.
According to MayoClinic.com, too much sugar in the diet can lead to health problems such as poor nutrition, weight gain, elevated triglycerides and tooth decay. Statements about sugar content on a label can help you manage your sugar intake, but these claims do not tell the whole story. If a food is labeled “sugar free” or “no added sugar,” it does not mean that the food is low calorie or carbohydrate free. The best source of information on a food label is the nutrition facts panel, which lists calorie content, total carbohydrate and sugar content as well as a complete list of ingredients.