Sugar Terms 101

Here is a helpful sugar breakdown for those of you who are confused by the different types of sugar terms that have been tossed around in the media lately … Thank you to Linda Robbins who wrote an article in the Times Telegram titled Sugar Vocabulary.   The following definitions were taken directly from Communicating Food for Health.

Added sugars (refined sugars):

These sugars usually come from sugar cane and/or sugar beets.  But they can also come from grains like corn –think high fructose corn syrup, etc.).  This category of sugar is added to sweetened beverages, candy, cakes, bread, cereal, and so on. 

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, these types of sugars are consumed in moderation, with calories from sugar making up no more than 10 percent of their total calorie intake. For example, 10 percent of 1800 calories per day is 180 calories from added sugars.

Added sugars are super high in empty calories and give the body zero nutrients when you consume them. Empty calories just add to your daily total of calories without contributing any health benefits. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, "Eating and drinking too many foods and beverages with added sugars isn't good for your health”. And worse if you eat too many empty calories then it becomes more difficult to maintain a healthy weight and get all the nutrients you need in a day.

Caloric sweeteners:

These sugars are basically any kind of sweetener that contains calories. Think honey, table sugar, agave, monk fruit, and even aspartame.

Fructose (fruit sugar):

Fructose is a type of sugar that occurs naturally in many fruits and even some vegetables. It's also a component of table sugar.  The good news about fructose is that when it is found naturally in foods, it is considered part of the food's full nutrient package so it gets the thumbs up unlike added sugars.  According to Beth Rosen, MS, RD, "The difference between fructose in fruit compared to high-fructose corn syrup in sweetened beverages is the concentration. While a 20-oz bottle of cola contains 36 grams of fructose, an apple contains 12 grams of fructose per serving, and a serving of strawberries contains 4 grams. This means that you would need to eat 3 apples or 9 cups of strawberries to equal the amount of sugar in a soda." 

Natural sugars:

Basically any sugar that is found naturally in foods like fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy. These sugars are part of a foods full nutrient package.

Non-caloric sweeteners:

This type of sugar includes all sweeteners that do not have any calories. Examples of non-caloric sweeteners include stevia, sucralose (Splenda), saccharin and Truvia.


Sugar is the generalized term used for many different sweet carbohydrates made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.  Forms of sugar include simple sugars that are monosaccharaides like fructose, glucose (also known as dextrose), galactose, and complex sugars that are disaccharides like maltose, sucrose, and lactose.

Sugar substitutes:

This term applies to non-caloric and caloric sweeteners that are not actually sugar.  Examples of sugar substitutes include those previously mentioned like Splenda, aspartame, stevia, honey, monk fruit and agave.

Okay so there you have it folks.  Now go impress yourself and see how many variations of sugar you can identify in your daily food intake… 

High-Fructose Corn Syrup

(HFCS) A concentrated form of liquid sugar which may contain a wide range of fructose concentrations. Most commonly it contains either 42% or 55% fructose, but may contain up to 90% fructose.

SugarScience Glossary

Table sugar

Sucrose, also called granulated sugar, is two simple sugars stuck together in a single molecule. Sucrose is made of one fructose and one glucose molecule. On this website, one level teaspoon of table sugar weighs 4.2 grams and has 16.8 calories.

SugarScience Glossary


Also called table sugar. Your body breaks sucrose into glucose and fructose to use them as fuel.

SugarScience Glossary


Sugars are chemicals made of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen found which taste sweet and are found in food. They are an important part of what we eat and drink and of our bodies. On this site, sugar is used to mean simple sugars (monosaccharides) like fructose or glucose, and disaccharides like table sugar (sucrose). Sucrose is two simple sugars stuck together for example (see Table sugar). Sugars are a type of carbohydrate. Carbohydrates are energy sources for our bodies Sugars enter the blood stream very quickly after being eaten.

SugarScience Glossary


Glucose is a sugar we eat. It is found in starch. It is the main fuel for our bodies. It is the sugar measured when we have a blood test to measure the blood sugar.

SugarScience Glossary


A sugar that we eat. Also called fruit sugar. Most fructose comes in sucrose (table sugar, cane sugar, beet sugar), or from high-fructose corn syrup.

SugarScience Glossary

SugarScience is the authoritative source for evidence-based, scientific information about sugar and its impact on health.

Mary C. Wiley, PsyD

Mary C. Wiley, PsyD, is a licensed clinical psychologist practicing in the Bay Area for nearly 20 years. She works primarily with addiction and mood disorders utilizing evidence-based approaches (cognitive -behavioral approach and mindfulness) therapies.

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