What does zero sugar really mean?

No sugar or ingredient containing sugar was added during processing or packaging. Sugar is often added to many unprepared products at the supermarket. These include healthy options, such as ketchup, salad dressings, and even ketchup. Even if you want to stop eating sugar, it can be confusing to see different labels such as “no sugar”, no added sugar and “no sugar”.

What's the difference, anyway, and what's the healthiest option? Rizzo says none of these labels are ideal. You may still be consuming small amounts or forms of sugar substitutes that you don't know about. But, of the three, “not adding sugar may be your best option. If you're going to buy something packaged, Gorin says it's fine without sugar, too.

So you don't eat added sugars or artificial sweeteners when you eat your food, she says. Zero-sugar or low-calorie alternatives are usually hundreds or thousands of times sweeter than regular sugar, but they don't raise blood sugar levels. While sugar alcohols contain some calories and carbohydrates, sugar substitutes add almost no calories and therefore do not cause a rise in the consumer's blood sugar levels. Sugar alcohols are a type of sweetener that contains some calories and carbohydrates, but sugar substitutes add almost no calories.

According to the FDA, when manufacturers claim that a food “has no added sugars,” it cannot be processed with any sugar or ingredients containing it, although it may contain sugar, alcohol or artificial sweeteners. As part of the FDA regulations on added sugar, the amount of added sugars must be listed in grams and as a percentage of the daily value on labels. A more immediate unpleasant effect of consuming sugar alcohols, a type of low-calorie sugar substitute, are gas, bloating, and diarrhea. Sugar-free sugar is a good option if you want to eliminate artificial sugars or reduce the amount of added sugar in your diet.

For example, a chocolate bar and fruit shake may have similar total sugar levels, but one food gets its sugar from candy, caramel, and nougat; the other, from fresh fruits, dairy products, and vegetables. More commonly referred to as a “sugar substitute” in everyday life (which is technically inaccurate), it is basically a food additive that provides a sweet taste similar (if not sweeter) to that of sugar without adding as many calories as regular sugar would. Healthy people may experience mild gas or bloating after eating foods sweetened with sugar alcohols, but if you have a gastrointestinal condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome, or eat a large amount of something sweetened with sugar alcohols, you could experience more extreme symptoms.

Shelley Musselman
Shelley Musselman

Avid social media fan. Award-winning coffee specialist. Subtly charming coffee enthusiast. Total bacon fan. Total pizza guru.

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