Sugars on food labels

Carbohydrates are broadly classified into monosaccharides, disaccharides and polysaccharides

Monosaccharides and disaccharides are otherwise known as 'sugars'

Polys or sugar alcohols are naturally found in some fruits and used commercially in products such as chewing gum

Packaged foods in Australian and New Zealand must provide nutrition information on the labels, including ingredients, nutrition information panels and content claims. Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) are the regulatory authority tasked with setting food labelling standards. 

FSANZ do this work thorough developing a Food Standards Code. They also regulate the use of other food ingredients such as processing aids, colourings, additives, vitamins and minerals, the composition of some foods and foods that are developed using new technology. The standards are enforced by the Australian states and territories and, in New Zealand, by the Ministry for Primary Industries.

Sugars and the Nutrition Information Panel

The Nutrient Information Panel on the back of the pack, shows detailed information on the  average amount of energy, protein, fat, saturated fat, carbohydrate, sugars and sodium (a component of salt) in the food, as well as any other claim that requires nutrition information. It shows this information in a serve and also in 100ml (liquid) or 100 grams (solid foods).  

Sugars are included as part of the carbohydrates that are listed in the nutrition information panel, as well as being listed separately as 'sugars'.

The amount of sugars in the nutrition information panel will include naturally present sugars, such as those found in fruit, as well as sugars that are added as an ingredient during the manufacturing process. 'Sugars' in this case is the total sugars content of the food or drink. 

Sugars and sugar in the ingredients list

In the ingredient list, everything is listed in a descending order according to their ingoing weight. So the first ingredient is that which is used in the largest amount and the last ingredient listed has been used in the least amount. 

Finding sugars in the ingredients list is more complicated. This is because there are many different types of sugars

When we say 'sugar' we generally mean table sugar or sucrose. Sugar in the ingredients list is limited to this definition, plus a few derivative products. 

Other sugars added as ingredients are treated differently. The Food Standards Code specifies that other added sugars must be listed using their specific names in the ingredients list.

This can be very confusing. We look for 'sugar' but forget that cane juice, date sugar, fructose and glucose are all different types of sugars, also added to the food as an ingredient. You therefore need to be aware of the names of the different types of sugars, to be able to identify them.

The Food Standards Code specifies the rules around sugars in the ingredients list as follows - 

(a) The name ‘sugar’ may be used to describe:

white sugar; or white refined sugar; or caster sugar or castor sugar; or loaf sugar or cube sugar; or icing sugar; or coffee sugar; or coffee crystals; or raw sugar.

(b) The name ‘sugars’ must not be used in a statement of ingredients.

Given that only certain sweeteners can be listed as ‘sugar’, the other types of sweeteners added must use the ‘name that describes the true nature of the ingredient’.

As such, ‘added sugar’ can appear on the ingredients list as any of the below:

Cane sugar  Blackstrap molasses
Brown sugar
Cane juice/sugar/extract
Caster sugar
Coffee sugar crystals
Demerara sugar
Golden syrup
Icing sugar
Invert sugar
Molasses
Panela
Rapadura
Raw sugar
Treacle
Turbinado sugar
White sugar 
Fruit Date sugar/syrup
Fruit juice concentrate
Fruit juice/sugar
Grape sugar/syrup
Beet Beet sugar
Corn Corn syrup/sugar
Glucose syrup
High fructose corn syrup
Alternative Sweeteners Agave
Barley malt syrup
Brown rice syrup
Coconut sugar
Date sugar
Honey Malt extract
Maple syrup
Palm sugar
Rice malt syrup
Chemical names Glucose
Dextrose (another name for glucose)
Fructose (fruit sugar)
Lactose (milk sugar)
Maltose (malt sugar)
Sucrose

 

Manufacturers use the different types of sweeteners and sugars for their various functional properties in food.

Being aware of these when looking at the ingredients list and referring to the nutrition information panel will give you the information you need on sugars in the food.

The sugars in the ingredients list are only those which have been added to the product. The sugars in the nutrition information panel refers to total sugars - this includes sugars added as an ingredient but also those which are naturally present in the food.  

 

FURTHER READING

FSANZ Food Labels - what do they mean. Acessed 29.07.2020 

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