Sugar 101 for Diabetes – How to Spot Hidden Sugar

Written By: Gloria Tsang, RD

Title: Founding Registered Dietitian

Alumni: University of British Columbia

Last Updated on:

For people with diabetes, avoiding sugar is the most common dietary concern. However, some people may be too strict in their sugar avoidance. In fact, sugars and sweetened foods can be eaten by those with diabetes – as long as they are only eaten in moderation.

How much Sugar?

Health authorities and experts suggest that most people with diabetes can consume up to 10% of their daily energy requirements as items with added sugars without causing harmful effects on blood sugar or the blood cholesterol profile. For an average adult consuming 2,000 calories daily, that means no more than 32 g or about 8 teaspoons of sugar per day. Speak to your dietitian about how to fit sweetened foods into your diet.

How to spot Sugar on food labels

Sugar might be “hiding” on the food labels you’re reading. All of the following terms indicate added sugar, so read carefully!

  • white sugar
  • brown sugar
  • icing sugar
  • invert sugar
  • corn syrup
  • high fructose corn syrup
  • maple syrup
  • honey
  • molasses
  • brown rice syrup
  • cane juice
  • evaporated cane juice
  • all fruit juice concentrates, including apple and pear
  • all “ose” including Dextrose, Fructose, Lactose, Glucose, Maltose and Sucrose

The Bottom Line

Contrary to popular myths, there is really no advantage to people with diabetes in using one type of sugar over another. “Natural” forms of sugar are metabolized the same way in the body as refined sugar and they all provide the same amount of calories, i.e. 4 calories per gram. The key is to focus on the amount of sugar you consume, instead of the type of sugar on the ingredient list.


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