Added Sugar: Hiding in Plain Sight

Diet culture would have us believe that “sugar is evil” and it “causes weight gain.” Neither of these statements is accurate to the degree that diet culture messaging would have us believe. But there is something we need to be aware of and share with our clients: added sugars are hiding in plain sight.

Sugar is not evil nor is it, alone, going to cause weight gain; however, the presence of so much added sugar in American food products is problematic. Clients may have the best of intentions of limiting the sweet stuff but are unknowingly consuming far greater amounts because sugar is not just called “sugar” in an ingredient list.

The nutrition facts panel does list “added sugars” under the Total Carbohydrate section, but it is difficult for consumers to visualize what, for example, three grams of added sugar looks like or equates to. Likewise, they may not be evaluating the ingredient list thoroughly because they aren’t aware of the various names of sugar and how it is often veiled on an ingredient list.

Sugar’s Many Aliases

Sugar comes in a variety of types, viscosities, and granular versions. Below is a list of sugar names you can share with clients. I find organizing it as a checklist in alphabetical order.

Agave syrup
Anhydrous dextrose
Brown sugar (or Beet sugar)
Brown rice syrup
Cane juice
Coconut sugar
Confectioner’s powdered sugar
Corn sweetener
Corn syrup
Corn syrup solids
Crystal dextrose
Date sugar
Evaporated corn sweetener (or cane juice)
Fruit juice concentrate
Fruit nectar
High-fructose corn syrup
Invert sugar
Liquid fructose
Malt syrup
Pancake syrup
Raw sugar
Sugar cane juice
Turbinado sugar
White granulated sugar

This list encompasses the most common forms of sugar found in food products ranging from canned, frozen, boxed, bagged, and baked goods. One rule to share with clients – if it has an “-ose” on the end of the word in the ingredients list, it’s some form of sugar.

This is not, however, a message to “avoid” or cut out the sweetness in life. The overarching message here is to help clients learn to identify all the sources of added sugar they are quietly consuming. You may explain how the recommended sugar consumption for one day translates. We want to encourage clients to keep their intake of sugar to less than 10% of their total daily intake. If we examine this from a 2,000-calorie diet (what the food label is based off), sugar should make up less than 200 calories (about 12 teaspoons or 50 grams overall).

Guiding Clients Added Sugar Consumption

One way I like to engage clients with this lesson is by encouraging them to complete a food inventory just by examining what they have on hand in their house. First, I provide them with the sugar names checklist and ask that they go through their kitchen to see what products contain added sugar.

I’m not concerned with fruits canned in natural juices, unsweetened frozen fruits, or unsweetened cereals or breads. I’m more concerned with helping clients build an awareness of what they are taking in with regard to added or hidden sugars.

For example, condiments are a significant source of hidden sugar – ketchup and salad dressings. There are products on the market that come without added sugar and, for some clients, it may be beneficial for them to find a replacement product to simply reduce the amount of sugar they take in daily or weekly.

Once clients complete their inventory, carve out time to coach them on what they discovered and how they may be able to make changes to reduce their overall consumption while still finding balance in enjoying a moderate amount of the sweet stuff.


Dr. Erin Nitschke, NFPT-CPT, NSCA-CPT, ACE Health Coach, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Therapeutic Exercise Specialist, and Pn1 is a health and human performance college professor, fitness blogger, mother, and passionate fitness professional. She has over 15 years of experience in the fitness industry and college instruction. Erin believes in the power of a holistic approach to healthy living. She loves encouraging her clients and students to develop body harmony by teaching focused skill development and lifestyle balance. Erin is also the Director of Educational Partnerships & Programs for the NFPT. Erin is an editorial author for ACE, IDEA, The Sheridan Press, and the Casper Star Tribune. Visit her personal blog at