Aug. 15. 2014
Written By:
McKel (Hill) Kooienga
McKel Hill Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Hill Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Founder of Nutrition Stripped and the Mindful Nutrition Method™

All sugar isn’t bad.

First, I have to so a huge THANK YOU to all of you for the amazing feedback on the Nutrition Stripped YouTube channel with cooking videos and for reaching 100,000 followers on Instagram! Because of this amazing achievement, I’m throwing a huge giveaway, on Instagram only, so be sure to check out the post and follow the directions there to win! Seriously, y’all are so great, I’m incredibly grateful you take the time to read this little ole’ blog of mine. So, earlier this week, I gave a talk at a private event about the Nutrition Stripped and whole food lifestyle and my philosophy on food- it was a fantastic event and we had some great individuals in the crowd asking some awesome questions.

Many of those questions circulated about carbohydrate intake, gluten, how to read the food label, what to do when shopping, and of course the hot topic of sugar. Hidden sugars and artificial sweeteners are one of the many questions I receive from clients and readers like you. What do you do about “natural” whole food sources of sugar in the whole foods lifestyle, are they still “okay” to consume regularly? I compiled a list of these “hidden sugars”, a.k.a. fancy names for sugar to look out for when purchasing processed foods. There’s also a downloadable free print out of this guide so you can bring it with you to the grocery store, hang on your fridge, or share with a friend. I hope you all find it useful!

When we think of sugar or carbohydrates in our diets, we have to think about the overall intake from the day, the week, and overall sources used- you know, the big picture of things! Sugar is one of the most “hated on” components in the diet, some for good reason and some just being dramatic. Too much sugar in someones diet may lead to: impaired glucose and insulin function which may lead to diabetes if lifestyle and high sugar intake is left unchanged, liver dysfunction, can be highly “addictive” from the large amounts of dopamine released while eating (dopamine is that “feel good” hormone), may contribute to obesity or general weight gain (there are many factors that lead to weight gain, consuming excess sugar is just one of them), and increases cholesterol and triglycerides (not the saturated fat as we once thought), and also a possible link to heart disease (here and here).

On the flip side, sugar can also be used strategically, especially when it comes to the world of athletes, recreational athletes (I consider myself in this category), and even with fat loss programs- it’s all about timing, combining, and frequency. I have many clients of mine on fat loss programs that allow and encourage the use of simple sugars and higher carbohydrate foods, but it’s all done with strategy and practice.

A couple of things to ask yourself when deciding what foods to purchase or eat that contain sugar is, how nutrient dense is this overall food? Example, is this a whole foods brownie recipe using maple syrup to sweeten or are these store bought brownies with triple the amount of refined sugars? The quality and quantity of the sugar used does matter. Most likely, that whole food recipe is also going to contain healthy fats, fiber, and protein, all of which are great to combine with carbohydrates in general to keep your blood sugars fairly stable. From a nutrient density standpoint, sugar is on the bottom of the chain. Rarely does sugar contain nutrients. I say rarely because there are a handful of sweeteners that contain small amounts of nutrients such as, honey and molasses being a couple.

I’ve put an asterisk* by some of my personal favorite natural/whole foods sugars to use for cooking, baking, or everyday use.


Any of the following names preceding the word “sugar” or “syrup”, is a sugar!

  • brown
  • cane
  • raw
  • beet
  • confectioners
  • high fructose corn syrup
  • malt
  • refiners 
  • rice


Most sugars contain the ending -ose or -ide

  • dextrose
  • fructose
  • lactose
  • maltose
  • galactose
  • sucrose
  • ribose
  • saccharose
  • glucose
  • monosaccharide
  • disaccharide
  • polysaccharide


These are the preferred sugars used in whole food baking and desserts, but still should be limited

  • agave (limit completely, agave is comprised of mostly fructose)
  • coconut nectar*
  • coconut sugar*
  • date sugar
  • maple sugar*
  • maple syrup*
  • honey*
  • fruit juice
  • fruit*
  • cane juice
  • molasses*
  • rice malt 
  • sorghum syrup
  • treacle 


  • erythritol
  • glycol
  • glycerin
  • iditol
  • isomalt
  • lacitol
  • maltitol
  • mannitol
  • ribotol
  • sorbitol
  • xylitol


  • Aspartame
  • Acesulfame-L
  • Nutra-sweet
  • Equal
  • Saccharin
  • Splenda
  • Stevia* (can be made with fillers and other artificial sweeteners, in it’s raw form it’s not artificial- click here to make your own!)
  • Sucralose 
  • Sweetleaf
  • Sweet-n-low
  • Truvia

PRINT this Guide to Hidden Sugars in a downloadable PDF, for free! Click Guide to Hidden Sugars I hope this printable guide was helpful in deciphering the ingredient label the next time you’re out grocery shopping.