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First, I want to apologize that this blog has been delayed; I was writing the food plan book – it is nearly done – and my time got unmanageable. Let’s resume here though, with reading the label.

The carbohydrate section is the most interesting part of the label to read. It is challenging and confusing for those of us trying to follow a “sugar free” or “no added sugar” food plan. So, let’s start at the beginning and work our way through it. First, did you read the ingredient list? Were there sugars there? If there were sugar names in the ingredient list, then be very suspicious of what is on the label.

The label may list as many as six items:

Total Carbohydrate

Dietary Fiber

Soluble fiber


Sugar alcohols

Other Carbohydrates

Some manufacturers voluntarily include the subcategories of sugar alcohol and “other carbohydrates.” Others do not.

When looking at the nutrition facts table, the number of total carbohydrates means the sum of sugar, starches and dietary fiber. Although all sugars are classed as carbohydrates, not all carbohydrates are sugars.

First is fiber. “Dietary Fiber” is the first listing beneath Total Carbs. Values are usually given for both weight in grams of dietary fiber and percentage of the daily intake of someone following a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet.  Dietary fiber is part of the total carbohydrates, but unlike sugar and starch, fiber is not digestible. The recommendation is that we eat 25 grams of dietary fiber each day. Some food labels also make the distinction between soluble and insoluble fiber, the two types of fiber found in foods. Insoluble fiber is mainly present in whole grain products and bran as well as in the skin of the fruits and in some vegetables. Its roles include preventing constipation and promoting regular bowel movements. Soluble fiber is usually found in oat, barley, flax seeds, nuts and psyllium, as well as some fruits and vegetables. Dietary fiber helps to control blood sugar, lower cholesterol levels and maintain the health of your gastrointestinal tract. Also, high fiber foods help you to feel full for longer periods of time. Soluble fiber absorbs water well, and can make your stool larger, softer, and easier to pass. The American Diabetes Association suggests that subtracting half of the fiber from total carbohydrates provides a more accurate picture of the carbohydrate content of the food.

Sugar was previously classified as a simple carbohydrate and included lactose, or milk sugar, sucrose, or table sugar, and fructose, fruit sugar. All these different types of sugars, whether they were naturally present in the food or drink or added to it, appear together in the sugar section and the total carbohydrate section of the nutrition facts table. Because there are no specific recommendations made for sugar, there is no percent daily value made for this nutrient.

The FDA regulation defines ‘added sugars’ as either free sugar (mono- and disaccharides), syrups or “sugars from concentrated fruit or vegetable juices that are in excess of what would be expected from the same volume of 100% fruit or vegetable juice of the same type.”

“Sugar” is one of two subheadings beneath “Total Carbs” on a food label. A serving’s total sugar content appears in grams but not as a percentage of your daily intake. The word “sugar” includes a variety of simple sugars, which are compounds that your body can easily break down for immediate use. Starches take longer to be absorbed and metabolized than sugars, and our tolerances for them vary widely. On food labels, “sugar” also refers to sugar-based sweetening agents, such as high-fructose corn syrup and sucrose. These very sweet sugars are blends of fructose and glucose and do not naturally occur in foods and drinks. At this point, you cannot tell how much sugar the manufacturer has added; when the food labels change in 2018, there will be a line named “added sugars.”  One teaspoon of sugar or sugar equivalent is 4 grams of sugar, 16 calories. Products we call sugars are often included in Total Carbohydrates, but not in the Sugars listings. So “sugar free” does not always mean that the product contains no sugar or sugar alcohols.

Did you read the ingredient list?  If there is one of the sugars in the first five ingredients, or if there are more than three sugars in the product, you may be triggered by the food. Some people can tolerate sugar in the fourth ingredient, if it is a condiment and used in small amounts; some people find they are better off not eating a product that has any added sugar at all.

Always pay attention to a food’s fiber, sugar and total carbohydrate content. For foods which list sugar, it is also important that you read the ingredients list. As ingredients are listed by weight, doing so can help you to avoid foods that contain large amounts of added sweeteners, which can help to reduce the risk of your addictive process being triggered by the food, and the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Sugar alcohols (sorbitol, xylitol, erythritol, inulin, and mannitol) are other sweeteners that may occur naturally in foods. More often, they are additives in sugar-free products such as gum and mints. Although not as sweet as sucrose, they have the advantage of being less likely to cause tooth decay. And they don’t get counted as sugar on the food label. When sugar alcohols are used as the sweetener, the product may be labeled “sugar-free,” but the product may not be “calorie-free.” In my practice, I have found many people to be triggered by these foods; weight loss stops and craving and obsessions begin. I recommend you not use these products, or products containing them.

“Added sugars,” in grams and as percent Daily Value, will be included on the new label, beginning in 2018. Scientific data shows that it is difficult to meet nutrient needs while staying within calorie limits if you consume more than 10 percent of your total daily calories from added sugar, and this is consistent with the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The definition of added sugars includes sugars that are either added during the processing of foods, or are packaged as such, and include sugars (free, mono- and disaccharides), from syrups and honey, and sugars from concentrated fruit or vegetable juices that are in excess of what would be expected from the same volume of 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice of the same type. The definition excludes frozen 100 percent fruit juice concentrate as well as some sugars found in fruit and vegetable juices, jellies, jams, preserves, and fruit spreads. You will see these changes beginning now and completed by July 2018. U.S. Dietary Guidelines’ recommend we eat no more than 10 percent of total calories from added sugars. That is hard for me to measure, on a daily basis. It means about 50 grams of added sugar, about 200 calories. The average American consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day, which amounts to an extra 350 calories. Even considering that we sometimes add sugar to food ourselves, most added sugar comes from processed and prepared foods.  Sugar-sweetened beverages and breakfast cereals are two of the most serious offenders.

The American Heart Association suggests a smaller limit – an added-sugar limit of no more than 100 calories per day (about 6 teaspoons or 24 grams of sugar) for most women and no more than 150 calories per day (about 9 teaspoons or 36 grams of sugar) for most men.

Sugar in all its forms –  from high fructose corn syrup to maltodextrin, to erythritol, are all the same to the body. Sugar has no nutrient value. It provides calories only. It is cheap and easy to manufacture with. For compulsive eaters and food addicts, and for some alcoholics, it triggers our diseases. The body can use sugar for physical activity or to store as fat cells. In Ben Franklin’s day, a pound of sugar cost the average working person about a week’s salary; people consumed one to two pounds of sugar per year. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that the average American consumes between 150 to 170 pounds of refined sugars in one year! In my opinion, (and this is my blog, so I get to tell you my opinion), That is too much sugar!  We all need to get committed to reducing the use of sugars and other man-made food in our diets! And I intend to help you do just that, if you follow my blogs and work with me.

For a list of more than 100 names of sugars, just call the office and we will email it to you.

Next time, we are going to talk about the most important item on the food label – protein. See you then.


Please comment below; tell me what you think of this article and my opinions.

Blessings to you,



  1. Melanie June 12, 2017 at 6:32 pm #

    Wow thank you for this thorough breakdown and detailed information in this blog about carbs and sugar. Everything I didn’t want to know! (Haha – still waiting for the scientific breakthrough that completely reverses everything we know about sugar and declares it chockfull of nutrients and brimming with health benefits!) I’m printing off this blog because it’s something I want to keep to be able to refer to. Thanks, Theresa!

  2. DARLA MCCRARY March 2, 2018 at 2:54 am #

    Is there a magical number to look for when reading a label and one that we should stay beneath when looking at carbs and sugars? Of course 0 would be optimal but not reality.

    • H. Theresa Wright March 7, 2018 at 10:29 pm #

      Darla, No I’m sorry there isn’t a magical number. And the number could be different for different people. Plus, the sugars listing includes only some of the sugars in the product. Other sugars like erythritol and high fructose corn syrup, are not counted in the sugars list. It is safer to read the ingredient list: if there are any of the sugars or sugar analogs in the first five ingredients, or if there are three or more sugars in the product, I advise everyone to stay away from it. Do you have our list of sugars? If not, please call the office and we’ll email it to you.

  3. Paul Seipp November 24, 2018 at 4:28 am #

    Hi Theresa. I’ve always been perplexed why Total Carbohydrates does not typically equal the sum of the constituents (sugars, fiber) listed below it.

    My interpretation now is the equation: [Total Carbohydrates] = [Dietary Fiber] + [Sugars] + [Starches]. Insofar as this may be an accurate equation, I’d ask that you expound further on the nature and value of starch carbohydrates. The average American knows the evil of sugars. Said American also knows the non-digestibility [non-absorption] of dietary fiber. Maybe I’m naïve, but i think too little is commonly known about starches.

    Additionally, I interpreted (rightly or wrongly) that the Sugars listing might not actually represent the true count of sugar-categorized carbs. “Products we call sugars are often included in Total Carbohydrates, but not in the Sugars listings.” Does this mean that there can be C6•H12•O6 variants that are not accounted-for on FDA labeling? What the heck?

    • H. Theresa Wright November 29, 2018 at 2:27 am #

      Yes there are some sugars that count as carbohydrates. So the total carbohydrates includes fiber, sugars(like table sugar and products that cause dental cavities) and more complex items that I call sugars, plus sugars added by the manufacturer If you don’t have my list of about 145 sugars, let me know and I will send you one. You must check the ingredient list. I am working on a whole blog for this topic, but I need to get the numbers exactly right, so stay tuned!

  4. Kat November 28, 2018 at 3:59 am #

    To eat or not to eat ,that is the question….?!

    I’m new to your blog and a new type 2 diabetic – ‘not being obtuse (I hope) however the label thing especially the sugars on labels not clear to me; please will clarify this for me – if a label shows total carbs 8g of which sugars are 3g and fiber is 2g what is the sum I should be doing to inform my decision,please ?
    Much appreciated and love king forward to your next blog.
    P.S. Planning Christmas dinner – visiting my vegan daughter in Vienna with my carnivore partner that needs to accommodate piscatarian me – hey ho – no pressure there then….at least I’m not irony deficient ha ha or should it be ho ho ?
    Kind regards

    • H. Theresa Wright November 29, 2018 at 2:29 am #

      I can’t answer that without the ingredient list. Some items that I would want you to call sugar are listed under carbohydrates. Vienna at Christmas! How wonderful! Have a lovely time! I will be writing more about sugars in a blog soon.

  5. karen virnich May 21, 2019 at 1:48 pm #

    if sugar free jelly has no sugar and 5 total grams of carbs 3 grams of fiber do I subtract 3 grams of the fiber to get not carbs

    • H. Theresa Wright June 14, 2019 at 8:40 pm #

      If you use less than two tablespoons of it, I would consider calling it a condiment and not counting it.

  6. Kelli Giroux May 31, 2019 at 3:11 pm #

    so if you are following a keto diet…. the carbs minus the fiber is net carbs. I understand we can also substract 1/2 the sugar alcohols from the total carbs as well. but are the sugars listed already in the carb count or should I be adding those?

    • H. Theresa Wright June 14, 2019 at 8:45 pm #

      I am not ann expert on the keto diet; you might want to check with the person who is guiding your process – but yes, sugar alcohols do contain sugar.

  7. Mitchell Cohn, DO June 19, 2019 at 4:51 pm #

    Hi. I have a comment and 2 questions. Question 1: I’m a physician, but still unclear about when the Total Carbs exceeds the combination of Fiber, Sugar, and sugar alcohols. For instance, I have a bar that says it contains 19 g carbs, 13 g fiber, 1 g sugar, and 3 g Erythritol. That means a total of 19 g carbs, but only 13 g accounted for. What are the other 3 grams? Is it starch?

    Question 2: Why does the ADA recommend “subtracting half of the fiber from total carbohydrates”? How does this provide “a more accurate picture of the carbohydrate content of the food.” I’m not at all clear on the reasoning.

    I realize this article was written over two years ago, so I’d like to add some clarification for your readers which may not have been available at that time: Erythritol, unlike all the other sweeteners has a zero glycemic index and has been shown to have absolutely no effect on insulin levels. Increased insulin appears to be the trigger, especially in Type II diabetics, for hunger. Erythritol is absorbed into the blood, passes through the blood without effect, and is excreted in toto, unchanged. It does not appear to trigger hunger. Most of the other sweeteners, virtually all of which have an effect on stimulating insulin secretion, may have a significant effect on hunger stimulation

    Thank you.

    • H. Theresa Wright July 5, 2019 at 1:11 pm #

      Thank you for writing, Dr Conn. You would need to contact the folk who recommend subtracting fiber from total carbohydrates, for more effective clarification of this issue.
      Even though erythritol is excreted whole, I have had experience of its triggering clients, so I just don’t recommend it for regular use.
      I would like to talk further, Please reach me at 610-996-9393 or at Thanks for writing. Theresa

  8. Susan W. August 17, 2019 at 12:10 pm #

    My husband’s A1C (type 2 diabetic) has skyrocketed and we are now counting grams of sugar as well as carbs. However, our original diabetes educator only taught us about carb counting (the issue at that time). Now as I look at labels for grams of sugar (25 in a day) I have run across sugar alcohols. Are they counted as carbs only, with the 25 grams of sugar, both? Help! I’m confused!

    • H. Theresa Wright August 25, 2019 at 12:40 am #

      This is confusing because there are more than 140 different names for sugar in the marketplace today. And they all have different rates of absorption and different effects on the blood sugar. I think that sugars are absorbed in relation to what else they are eaten with, and what kind of food they are processed in. Go back to your original diabetes educator, or find another if she is not available, or call your insurance company for a referral or call my office and we will help you find what you need. Good luck.

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