What does ‘No added sugar’ really mean? No sugar?

What does ‘No added sugar’ really mean? No sugar?

What does ‘No added sugar’ really mean? You see the words on the food labels, but we don’t quite understand what it means. Is it free of sugar? I’ll explain to it as easy as I could.

What does ‘No added sugar’ really mean?

What does ‘No Added Sugar’ really mean?

If you’re trying to reduce the sugar and calories in your diet, you may be turning to artificial sweeteners or other sugar substitutes. What does “No added sugar”, “without added sugar” really mean?

According to the FDA

To use the “No added sugar” or claim, the product must meet the following requirements:

  • There can be no sugar substitute that contains sugar added to the product (ex. honey).
  • There can be no foods that contain added sugar in the product (ex. fruit juice).
  • The reference food that it provides an alternative for typically contains sugar.
  • The package states that it is not a low-calorie food, unless it meets the low-calorie requirements.
  • The product does not contain a significant amount of natural sugars.

Meaning of “No added sugar”

“No added sugar” merely means the manufacturer has not added any sugar or ingredient containing sugar (honey, molasses, high-fructose corn syrup, malt syrup, and cane syrup) to the product during processing or packaging.

It does NOT mean there is no sugar in the product – it may still have natural food sugars, sugar alcohol, or artificial sweeteners. For example, “no added sugar” canned fruits contain lots of natural sugar. “No added sugar” ice creams contain lactose, a natural milk sugar.

Sugar alcohol” still have calories

This term is NOT the same as sugar-free. Because it may contain naturally-occurring sugars (fruit sugar or fructose or milk sugar or lactose), artificial sugars, and sugar alcohols.

“No added sugar” products often contain a sugar substitute or low-calorie sweetener. This is how they can contain fewer sugars with sweetness.

It’s important to remember that there is an effect on your glucose levels from these foods. Try not overeating them. We tend to forget “free” doesn’t always mean “free”.

The “regular” cookie has sugar and flour, etc. and the sugar-free cookie will have sugar alcohol, flour, etc.


“Sugar-free” food contains less than 0.5 g of sugar per serving to be labeled.” This includes naturally occurring forms of sugar and any ingredient that contains sugar. In other words, the food product doesn’t have to be completely free of sugar, as long as it meets the per serving requirement.

You must remember: it might be less than 0.5g of sugar per serving, but you could add the amount of sugar a lot faster if you consume multiple servings.


“Unsweetened” means the product contains no added sugars, artificial sweeteners, and sugar alcohols whatsoever. However, it doesn’t mean the food is sugar-free, as it may have naturally occurring sugars. If you want to avoid artificial sugars or reduce the amount of added sugar in your diet, unsweetened foods are a solid pick.  

Unsweetened food products: almond milk, coconut milk, apple sauce, iced tea, and more.

That’s the way food manufactures save the cost of sugar

Food manufacturers replace sugar with sugar alcohol, natural sweeteners (honey, maple syrup, or coconut sugar), sugar-free products to reduce the quantity of sugar in their products without sacrificing flavor.

“No sugar added” items remove the processed sugar (sugar, corn syrup, brown rice syrup, molasses, etc.) and replace it with “sugar alcohol” (a slower digesting carbohydrate).

Read the label and look at the total carbohydrates

When you get cookies, candy, or ice cream with the term, try not to overeat it. If you are not convinced of its effect on your glucose levels, simply check your blood sugar before and 2 hours after your meal. Do this with the “real” cookie and the “sugar-free” cookie. Notice the difference and make your informed decision.

Foods with “no sugar added”

  • Candy
  • Cookies
  • Fruit juice
  • Fruit preserves
  • Granola
  • Ice cream
  • Peanut butter

Which is healthiest: “sugar-free”, “no added sugar”, or “unsweetened”?

Actually, none of these labels are ideal. You still might take some forms of sugar substitutes that you aren’t aware of.

Out of the 3, “no added sugar” may be your best bet.

But remember that there may be artificial sugar in the product instead. “Unsweetened” is okay, too. Avoid “sugar-free” and “added sugar” foods. Consuming them in excess is tied to a greater risk of weight gain, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and dental caries.


Sugar-intake guidelines released by the WHO in 2015, recommend that adults and kids reduce their intake of free sugars to less than 10 % of daily calories. That’s a maximum of 50 g (10 teaspoons) of free sugars a day for the average adult who eats a 2,000-calorie diet.

The organization stated that reducing free sugars to less than 5 % of daily calories would provide further benefits (i.e., no more than 25 g of free sugars a day).

Different Types of Sugars

Common types of sugars you may see on food labels. Keep in mind that naturally occurring sugars such as those in fruit are not required to appear in ingredient lists.

Naturally Occurring Sugar

These sugars are found naturally in fruit (fructose) and dairy (lactose). These sugars are hard to overtake because they typically come in combination with fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals.

Foods: fresh fruits and vegetables

Added Sugar

Sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared.

Products used: Processed foods, baked goods, and soft drinks to enhance their flavor or achieve the proper texture. Brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, high fructose corn syrup, granulated sugar, and more.

Artificial Sweeteners

They are synthetic sugar substitutes (intense sweeteners) because they are a lot sweeter than sugar. But they may be derived from naturally occurring substances (herbs or sugar itself).

On label: aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose
Products used: sugar-free—such as diet soft drinks and tabletop sweeteners.

Sugar Alcohols (polyols)

Carbohydrates occur naturally in certain fruits and vegetables. They can also be manufactured artificially. Sugar alcohols aren’t considered intense sweeteners because they aren’t sweeter than sugar. In fact, some are less sweeter than sugar. As with artificial sweeteners, the FDA regulates the use of sugar alcohols.

Sugar alcohols contain calories. But they’re lower in calories than sugar. These sugar alcohols will still have an impact on your blood sugar because they digest more slowly and you may see less of a spike.

On label: sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol and lactitol. Most of them end in “ol” just like alcohol.
Products used: sugar-free chewing gum and hard candy because they are not associated with tooth decay.
Side effects: They may have a laxative effect on some people.

More Resources
How sugars and carbs should make you smile? 
International Food Information Council Foundation

Conclusion: Don't be fooled by "no" - there's calories. Understand and use it wisely. 

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