We got the idea for this post in the middle of our SnoRidge CrossFit workshop. We were about an hour into the afternoon, and Dallas was talking about how (and why) sugar and artificial sweeteners make you less healthy. That led to a discussion of all the sneaky ways big business, marketing campaigns and advertisers find to appease the sugar tantrums in all of us. Which prompted one attendee to ask, “Do you have a comprehensive list of sugars somewhere on your site? A way to identify the different forms of sugar we may see in a list of product ingredients?”
Huh. Well, no, we didn’t… but that was an awesome idea, so now we do.
Today’s post is dedicated to calling out all of the sneaky ways SUGAR may try to hide in the foods you eat, and shining a light on the misleading claims that are made in support of one form of sugar or another. They (the high fructose corn syrup people, the agave people, the Stevia people) claim because a sugar is “natural” or “low on the glycemic index” or “non-nutritive” that it’s somehow healthy for us. On top of that, they sneak it in under the guise of a label that sounds vaguely plant-like and harmless, or in plain sight under its scientific name, easy to overlook because you just plain don’t know what it is. The truth? Sugar is sugar is sugar, regardless of the form it may take or the claims it might make. And on no planet does added sugar ever make you healthier.
Below is a list of the most commonly employed sneaky ways “they” find to sweeten the foods we eat. Don’t be fooled. Educate yourself, read your labels and avoid regular consumption of products with added sugar, in any form.
Just Plain Sugar
- ______ Sugar (brown sugar, cane sugar, raw sugar, beet sugar, confectioner’s sugar, etc.)
- ______ Syrup (high fructose corn syrup, malt syrup, refiner’s syrup, rice syrup, etc.)
Science-y Names for Sugar
- Agave Nectar
- Coconut Nectar
- Coconut Sugar
- Date Sugar
- (Evaporated) Cane juice
- Fruit Juice*
- Maple Syrup
- Rice Malt (extract)
- (Sweet) Sorghum
*Admittedly, it can be hard to know where to stop in your quest to remove added sugar from your diet. Fruit juice is basically just sugar, which is why we’re including it here. Does that mean your apple juice sweetened chicken sausage is out? That’s your call. We’re just here to present the information – what you do with it is up to you.
Artificial (Non-Nutritive) Sweeteners
- Sweet ‘n Low
- Hydrogenated Starch Hydrosylate (HSH)
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Melissa or Dallas, question for you.
My in-laws find the need to take plain, naturally sweet, fruit salad and cover it with sugar. They find the need to sweeten the sweet fruit further. Is this related to some kind of “over-sugaring” throughout their lives that causes them to not recognize a naturally sweet food?
I think I’m finally beating my sugar demons! I have an imaginary “date” (not yet scheduled) to take one day and eat everything from my past that I used to enjoy and just pig out! LOL. Cheesecake, doritos, coffee with sugar and cream, chocolate pudding, coconut macaroons, apple pie, etc. etc. It is just an imaginary date, however, and I truly believe I am just mentally psyching my sugar demons. More than likely I will not follow through with this diabolical date but it’s still fun to dream … Thank you, Dallas and Melissa for helping me over this ‘hump’.
However, where on the list would fruits be? I have been severely limiting my intake of fruits such as apples and bananas because I read somewhere (maybe here?) that they are basically just candy bars growing on trees! But what about strawberries, blueberries, cantalope? These items have become really really sweet to me now (I used to not be able to eat strawberries unless they had been drenched in sugar!, like Nick’s in-laws) Should I be limiting my consumption of these, too? Between lunch and supper is when the sugar demons seem to howl the loudest (at least I think it’s the sugar demons?!) so I have a bowl of plain blueberries or strawberries for my afternoon “snack.” Am I still giving in to those demons?? If these are the sugar demons howling, should I try something else for my snack – perhaps black olives or an extra glass of water instead?
I’d also like to know where to draw the line with fruit consumption I’ve been eating strawberries and grapes the last couple of weeks maybe a handful of each every second day or so. I think I’m addicted to these they are so nice fresh and um sweet… I’m starting to think they may be slowing my fat loss progress. I’m thinking berries would be the best form of fruits so yeah whats the deal with fruit?
Melissa @ Whole9 says
@Nick: That’s EXACTLY what we’re talking about. People become so conditioned to the artificially flavored chemical sweet/savory/salty/sour tastes in processed foods that they can’t appreciate the gorgeous subtleties of the REAL foods they’re eating. Sweet potato, strawberries, even carrots are PLENTY sweet, but until the taste buds are reconditioned, those flavors are lost on some. It’s a crying shame – but the good news is that just 30 days of the Whole30 starts to fix that! Lots of testimonials to that effect, in fact. Thanks for sharing.
@Ronna: Good for you! Glad to hear you’re feeling better and stronger. (And yes, it IS fun to dream… which is why I scope the wine list at every restaurant, without ever ordering a glass.)
Fruits are one of those tricky foods. Fruit isn’t the enemy by any means – it’s loaded with good nutrition, and delicious to eat! But we have referred to them as “nature’s candy” from time to time, so if eating a handful of grapes sends you running for the nearest Krispy Kreme (or leads you to hoovering the ENTIRE bag of grapes) you may want to back off even the “naturally” sweet things until your demons are more under control.
You’re totally onto something in your last question, sister. Do yourself a favor – when your sugar tantrums are acting up, that is NOT the time to reach for fruit. Eat FAT instead – some olives, a handful of macadamia nuts, some celery with Sunbutter. Fat is satiating, tells your brain you are happy and full, and doesn’t stir the sugar cravings like fruit will. (Drinking a glass of water won’t do a darn thing – you’ll still be hungry!) Hope that helps – although it sounds like you’re already WELL on the way to figuring this all out for yourself. We’re proud of you for that – great work here!
@Nathan: You used the word “addicted”. That’s about all I need to hear, my friend! See my advice to Ronna above – do yourself a favor and break those sugar cravings by NOT reaching for fruit at every opportunity. Try “sweeter” vegetables like jicama, sugar snap peas or carrots – juicy, portable, delicious, but not as sugary as those berries. And eat them with some fat for satiety!
Melissa – OMG – I completely forgot I had purchased a jicama two weeks ago at the grocery store. I decided to try it just now after reading your comment – just how on EARTH do you PEEL this darned thing?!? did cavepeople have knives? If I was a cavewoman and found this, I think I’d chuck it! And if it was my caveman husband who brought it home saying “here, try this” I’d chuck it at HIM! LOL.
Anyway, I just peeled about half of it and cut into it – I think it went bad on me since I stuck it in the crisper and forgot all about it. :( I’ll get another one this weekend when I go shopping and give it another try.
Lauren - Crossfit Ramstein says
Hi Melissa and Dallas! Yet another great post and one that’s hitting home here at Crossfit Ramstein. We’re 2 days out from the end of our Paleo/Healthy Eating Challenge and people seem to be very happy with the results. One of the issues we faced with some of our newbies was getting them off the ‘crack’ that is sugar. Sometimes I felt like a hostage negotiator trying to convince them to give up their ‘one teaspoon of sugar’ in their coffee. Some folks were able to give it up cold turkey, which was awesome. Others were giving up sugar for the first time ever so we took a softer approach with them and allowed them to use honey instead of their usual sugar, and then try to phase that out completely. After about 1 week of using honey instead, it got phased out completely and now the people who ‘had to have’ milk or non dairy creamer (yuck!) and sugar in their coffee are content to enjoy it with just a splash of coconut milk. Maybe it makes me a bad challenge coach for caving to such concessions but in my mind the idea is to get people to make these changes PERMANENTLY and being the iron fisted coach who refuses to budge was not the best way to welcome people to the community of ‘healthy eating’. Plus the feedback I’m getting tells me this is a trend they are willing and able to continue. I guess ‘tough love with understanding’ wasn’t such a bad strategy after all! Thanks as always for all the great information, I plan to email you after it’s all said and done to let you know how things went.
P.S. Totally agree with putting fruit juice on the list, or as I call it ‘liquid candy’.
Dawn K says
It’s crazy that you almost have to have a degree in sciencey label names to figure out what all they try to sneak into food. Although, I’ve relieved a lot of that by building 98% of my diet on things that don’t have an ingredient label because they are what they are (fresh produce, meats, eggs, etc.). I just want to throw a quick testimonial out there about fat and sugar cravings. I am not quite Whole 30, but following something very close to it. During the first couple of weeks, my carb/sugar cravings were *nasty*! I remembered what I’d read here and some other places about reaching for fat, so when things got too out of hand and I couldn’t stand it anymore (a hard core carb craver will know what I’m talking about—it’s like you have to grit your teeth and feel all crazy!) I actually fried a couple of slices of bacon, mashed a whole avocado, drizzled bacon grease over it, and ate that with two eggs I scrambled in the rest of the bacon fat. It was this huge plate of fat and I felt weird eating it….but it killed the sugar craving fast. Since then, I find some avocado slices or my new favorite—“green egg salad” (hard boiled eggs chopped up and mixed with mashed avocado, onions, and lime juice) are great cures when I hear the siren song of cake. These are huge changes for me and I’m feeling great!
KnArF The CavEMAN says
SWEET JESUS!!! How do you guys feel about the Jerky from Trader Joe’s? I buy the Organic Beef Peppered Jerky but Yes, it does have sugar. I’m going to attempt to make my own Jerky very soon
Dallas @ Whole9 says
We’re thrilled to hear about the success of your implementation of a lot of the Whole30 principles that made YOU so successful, and we’re certainly not judging your coaching ability from afar. Like you say, success has to start with buy-in, and if a teaspoon of honey prevents buy-in from your clients, then your program – and they – have missed the point. So, while the Whole30 says NO added sugar, your gentler, “step down” program just might work for some of your people. Thanks for the check-in, and we’re looking forward to hearing about the success of your clients!
Fat and protein are satiating, yes! Just don’t rely on bacon as your go-to fat source ;)
Let us know how your unsweetened jerky turns out! (We think the idea of sweetening dried meat is… dumb.)
Chris in NYC says
thanks guys. Its also worth noting there is a severe sugar shortage across the globe right now causing sugar commodities to spike. it will be interesting to see how many new exotic sweetner creations food corporations will come up with due to this.
Hi I am two weeks into the Whole30 and am feeling great. I am looking to lean up so do you have any suggestions? I eat every few hours with protein, veggies and fat. I limit my fruit to once a day. I also do CrossFit for exercise. If I am hungry at night, what do you suggest eating? Should I limit my veggies intake to help lose body fat and load up on more protein and fat? Also, how much fat should I include in my meals and snacks? Is there a way to get too much fat?
Dallas @ Whole9 says
You’d better go read some of our comments on the Whole30 post about leaning out. We’re almost done with a Whole30 Success Guide (that answers all your questions), but in short, just eat. Don’t overthink it. The W30 is about learning how to make good food choices, so just do that. Stick with the meat/fish/eggs, veggies and some fruit, and healthy fats. if you’d like a detailed guide to rocking the Whole30, you might consider purchasing one when it comes out in a week or two (though the Whole30 will ALWAYS be available for free). Good luck!
Dallas- Thank you for replying back. Are you talking about the post that summarizes the Whole30? I understand to just eat, but I would still like to know if I wanted to lean out, is there a certain amount of fat that I should be having a day. Can I have too much? Also, if I were to cut back on veggies a bit, would that help? Should I eat only protein at night? Being new to this I have a lot of questions…sorry. I went to your class in Wenatchee and I noticed how lean you both were so I would appreciate any input. I will consider buying your book, but I will be done with my Whole30 in about a week and a half and would like the input now. I would really appreciate it. Thank you!
Dallas @ Whole9 says
Yeah, I was referring to the Whole30 comments. There are 1300+ of them, but we’ve responded to this question from others many, many times. To put it bluntly: we don’t care if you lean out on your Whole30. That’s not the goal. We want you to THINK differently about food, and make consistently good choices about food, and at some point down the road, your lean-ness will come along, naturally and sustainably. But if you chase weight loss, you WILL fail long-term. Why do you think there are sooooooooo many “diets” out there? This is not a “diet”. It’s a way to eat… forever. Our Success Guide will be out tomorrow, and the new version of the Whole30 (three point oh) will be out on Sunday. I’m sorry that I’m sidestepping your questions, but your questions tell me you need to review the whole point of the program. I recommend reviewing the entire Whole30 post and comments. Best,
Hi Dallas. Thank you for commenting back. Doing the Whole30 has changed my relationship with food and after getting so much education of why we should cut out certain foods, I feel like I have learned more doing the Whole30 and going to your class than I have ever thought I would ever learn. I feel great about what I am eating and for the first time I love to cook!!! I feel like everything that I am eating is healthy and is good for my body. That makes me feel happy in general about myself because I know I am eating well and it makes me feel good as well. I am also implementing paleo in my family. It is that important to me! I apologize that I came across like I only wanted to lean out. I have only heard that it takes time and leaning out is a bonus to eating paleo. I also read on the Whole30 part of your website that it was a good way to lose extra belly fat and I was curious to know how and I wanted to make sure I was doing it right. I am almost done with my whole30 but I am going to eat paleo after and continue on with it in my life. I will read the comments that you have and see if I can get some answers. Thank you for your help and I understand what you were saying.
Found a sugar that was new to me today! Jaggery = sugar. It’s the first ingredient in the tamarind chutney found in the back of the fridge… time to clean out the fridge! :)
What great disinformation piece. Educate yourself indeed! Since when does a plant fall into the ‘Artifical Sweetners’ category?
“They (the high fructose corn syrup people, the agave people, the Stevia people) claim because a sugar is “natural” or “low on the glycemic index” or “non-nutritive” that it’s somehow healthy for us. On top of that, they sneak it in under the guise of a label that sounds vaguely plant-like and harmless..”
While I agree that HFC and agave are pretty bad stuff, you need to educate yourself on Stevia:
“Stevia is a genus of about 240 species of herbs and shrubs in the sunflower family..”
So yeah, it’s plant-like, because it’s a plant. And healthy? “stevia leaves have been used for centuries in South America spanning multiple generations in ethnomedical tradition as a treatment for type II diabetes.”
Melissa @ Whole9 says
@Alex: The Stevia people sure do have a great marketing campaign. First, just because it comes from a plant doesn’t make it good for you. There are plenty of poisons and toxins that are “all-natural”… just like Stevia. Second, Stevia markets itself as a “non-nutrative sweetener”. Since when is “non-nutritive” a healthy descriptor? Finally, if we’re trying to get people off the sugar-train, substituting a non-nutritive sweetener that is two, three, ten times sweeter than sugar doesn’t even make sense, from a mental or physiological perspective.
Robb Wolf (a very smart dude) talks about the dangers of artificial sweeteners like Stevia in his book, in case you’d like to hear a different perspective. Thanks for your comment.
I just started The Whole30 less than a week ago, and sugars are my weakness. I bought some coconut milk and it has evaporated cane juice in it. I keep reading that coconut milk is recommended but the cane juice isnt. Is this something that is okay to have on occasion or should I get rid of it and try to find something else?
Jessica M says
Ahh! Who knew that lactose was a sugar? I do now! I’ve been having a lot of muscle soreness after a couple really hard workouts, and was taking Traumeel to help with the soreness… which contains…. Lactose! Sigh… looks like I have to start my Whole30 over again… luckily I was only on day 3.
Somewhat related, what’s the philosophy on vitamins during the Whole30? Should those of us that take multi-vitamins continue to take them? Also, do they have hidden ingredients we should be avoiding? (sugar, starch, etc.)
Melissa @ Whole9 says
Oh – sorry to hear that! Lesson learned. You can read more about our take on supplements (which answers all of your questions) here (http://whole9life.com/2010/08/whole9-supplement-evaluation-checklist/) and here (http://whole9life.com/2010/09/supplements-part-ii/).
And coconut nectar, and coconut sugar.
Melissa @ Whole9 says
Christina – great point! Those things weren’t out (or at least, popular) when we originally wrote this post, but we’ve hearing more about them now. I’ll edit this post to include those two.
Mark Sisson doesn’t have a problem with Stevia.
Melissa @ Whole9 says
Nope, Mark is pretty okay with Stevia, for most folks and in the right context. We, however, don’t think any sugar substitute – even Stevia – is a healthy physical or psychological choice in everyday meals and snacks.
We agree to disagree. And that’s okay!
Thanks for the reply melissa – I’m not really addicted to sweets in general, but looking for something for coffee mainly and stevia does the trick.
Love your site and all the great work you do!
Suzanne H says
Is glycerine in supplements ok? Or is that the same as glycerol?
Melissa @Whole9 says
That’s a tricky one. The short answer is that while the ADA classifies glycerine/glycerol (same diff) as a carbohydrate, we don’t view it as a sugar. It’s fine for your Whole30 in a supplement.
My question is about cinnamon and/or cinnamon sticks. I am setting my stage to begin the challenge in a couple weeks. I noticed on the approved list of ingredients and spices you’ve placed cinnamon. My specific question is can you or are you allowed to add cinnamon to your morning coffee as a sweetner? Or should you just for go it all together and go black?
Melissa @Whole9 says
Cinnamon is a fantastic spice, and may even help improve insulin sensitivity. It’s fine to add some to coffee, but don’t expect it to taste sweet – it adds flavor, but not sweetness. Many folks have better results adding the cinnamon to the grounds/beans before brewing, but you can also try adding after.
Thanks. I knew it wouldn’t necessarily sweeten the taste. I’ve tried it before and it seemed to fool my taste buds. That’s why I was asking. I just wanted to make sure before I began my challenge. Thanks again for the support.
Hey, what about honey? Especially raw honey? And grade B maple syrup which contained nutrients than grade A?
Melissa @ Whole9 says
Diego, while each form of sugar has chemical differences, the point of this post is that nobody eats sugar for the nutrients – and no form, even honey or maple syrup, could on any planet be classified as “nutrient dense.” These two forms of sugar are not healthier for you, especially from a psychological perspective.
I see Agave as an approved Paleo ingredient EVERYWHERE! Pleeeeese tell me that it Is acceptable as a “treat” once in a while. Or at least the best of the worst.
Also, where do you stand on Raw Coconut Crystals and Date Sugar?
Melissa @ Whole9 says
Here’s our general take. If you’re going to eat or add sugar to your food or drink, add whatever the heck you want – but understand that it’s not making you healthier, regardless of where it comes from. Don’t be fooled by marketing campaigns that suggest that agave, coconut crystals or date sugar are “healthier” options. While there are chemical and metabolic differences between each form of sugar, from a psychological perspective, it’s all the same. (Your brain doesn’t differentiate – all it knows is you ate something sweet.)
So if you want a treat, and prefer your treat be sweetened with agave – go for it! But don’t try to fool yourself into thinking your agave is any healthier than most other forms of sugar.
Thanks Melissa, that helps. Now if I could only trick my brain into thinking that sugar is protein then it would be a piece of cake….literally!
I’m setting myself up to start a whole30 and so have been cleaning out my kitchen of all the things that are off limits. I noticed the ingredients on all my “natural” teas list stevia leaf. Do you know if this is just unprocessed stevia? Not sure if I need to find new teas or not…
Just a few helpful hints from a chemist: most sugars under their chemical names end is -ose, so maltrose, dextrose, glucose and all the rest of the -ose family will be sugars (so long as you’re looking at their chemical names). Also, if you’re looking to cut all alcohols (like the program says), any chemical names ending in -ol are out as well (this does not include cholesterol, as it is not the actual chemical name of the steroid, but cholesterol does have an alcohol functional group, so it can still act as an alcohol). Lastly, if you want to talk different types of sugar, you should NEVER eat or drink anything with aspartame in it… this decomposes into formaldehyde in the body. Yea, that’s the same stuff they use to embalm bodies…
Ohhhh, darn it…just realized my turkey sausage is off limits…just found out it has dextrose and maltodextrine. Dang!
I am starting my Whole30 journey today, and went to have a cup of my Green Tea Blueberry Slim Life….but the last ingredient listed is “Stevia Leaf.” I understand that processed stevia leaf is a sugar no-no. What about the leaf? Or is this just a ploy and my tea bag is chock full of sugar? (NEED to revevlaute tea purchasing!)
Robin S. says
While Stevia leaf isn’t a bad choice for sweetening tea AFTER your Whole30, it is still a sweetener and out for your Whole30. Tea choosing can be tricky business!
That’s what I thought, thank you!! :)
You never responded to someones question about coconut milk. I see it everywhere also but it has organic dried cane sugar in it…. which is a no no…
Erin @Whole9 says
There are several brands of coconut milk in cans without cane sugar, their much easier to find at places like WHole Foods or Trader Joes. Your coconut milk should only have coconut milk it it to be compliant (and possibly a slight amount of guar gum, which is also allowed on the Whole30). Hope this helps!
Another alternative is to make your own coconut milk. No bpa from the can, no added stabilizers, no preservatives. All you need to do is put 7/8 c of shredded, organic, unsweetened coconut into a blender, pour 1 cup hot water over the coconut, blend at high speed for 2-3 minutes. Pour the pulp into a jelly or nut bag or cheesecloth, squeeze out the milk into a container, return the pulp to the blender and pour in another 1/2 cup of hot water and blend for another 1-2 minutes, pour the pulp back into the bag and squeeze again. Fresh coconut milk!
Simon 1066 says
While I agree that sweeteners such as stevia are never going to be ‘healthy for us’ – I’ve never been taken in by that hype, they are mainly marketed as a replacement for sugar where the aim is to substitute the harmful effects with, in theory, more benign ones. ‘Sugar is sugar is sugar’ yes but not all sweeteners are sugars – of course it depends on one’s definition of sugar.
Stevia should not necessarily be grouped alongside Aspartame as an artificial sweetener – the fact is, in most forms, it is natural in the same way that ‘sugar’ is natural, it just doesn’t have the same affect on health. To differentiate stevia from sugar it needs to go in a category of its own – ‘natural sweetener’.
It could be that the term artificial is meant to denote the impersonation of the sweet properties of sugar – is that respect stevia goes a good job of it.
I too agree that sugar should be avoided, but as long as we humans crave a sweet taste in our mouths it is perfectly acceptable to seek out alternatives that are less harmful.
Professionally I am biased towards the use of stevia but personally my family and I avoid all sugar and use stevia as a healthier alternative in its low-carbohydrate form. Depending on your dietary desires you just need to be aware that stevia products come in all guises, to suit all needs so some will more closely resemble sugar’s properties than others.
Hi there! I know this is kind of off topic but I was wondering which blog platform are you using for this site?
I’m getting sick and tired of WordPress because I’ve had
issues with hackers and I’m looking at alternatives for another platform. I would be fantastic if you could point me in the direction of a good platform.
Erin @Whole9 says
@Stacey, we actually use WordPress.
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It’s been a few years and this topic seems are relevant now as ever. We should though have a section for ‘natural sweetners’. I think pretty much everyone agrees that Stevia (in it’s natural, ground, state) doesn’t deserve to be in the artificial sweetners section, since it’s not artificial. How can a leaf be artificial?
There’s another sweetner I’ve recently discovered that’s similar to Stevia (in that it has a 0 glycemic index) called Inulin. It’s a great soluble fiber, and it tastes sweet.
There’s an argument where taking anything sweet will bump up your insulin production because the tongue will send a message to the brain of incoming sugar…
This is only partially true. I’ve found from personal experience, that if you completely avoid sugar, after a few months, everything starts to taste sweet. So what’s the point then? Use things like Stevia and Inulin sparingly and long-term you’ll probably have a lower insulin load…
Samuel Claiborne says
I am dubious that sugar is NEVER good for you. I have a friend who could barely move after her heart attack. She went on Dr. Sinatra’s heart protocol (D-Ribose, L-Carnitine, Co-Q10, Magnesium) and IMMEDIATELY got better. Within a couple of months she was hiking.
Whenever she stops, she feels brain fog, and angina.
I have a-fib and a tiny bit of pain above my heart and am using it now (for 3 days so far). Not sure if it’s helping me, but I do know that blanket statements like yours make me dubious.
I would love a response.