What’s the Difference Between Sugar Free and No Added Sugar?

women reading grocery label

Making sense of sugar claims on the package

Foods and drinks sometimes seem to almost talk to us from the store shelves. “Psst, watching your weight? Check me out!” “Cutting back on sugar? I’m the one you want!”

Food packages often include statements about health benefits or nutritional quality separate from the required Nutrition Facts label. You may be wondering how to make sense of it all. Are these products healthier? 

What’s in a label?

The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) regulates health and nutrient content claims on food and drink packaging. In 2016, the FDA revised the Nutrition Facts label to list both “Total Sugars” and “Added Sugars.”  Now it’s much easier to find out how much added sugars are in a food or beverage.

There is some evidence that the change could have a massive impact not only on people’s ability to make healthier choices but also on how much added sugar the food industry puts in our food. In any case, reading the Nutrition Facts label and ingredients list on packaged foods is a good way to know and limit how much added sugar you and your family eat.

But what about other types of sugar content claims, such as “no added sugar” on the packaging? These can be helpful, but only if you understand what they really mean. So, let’s define a few common terms.

What do sugar content claims mean?

According to the FDA, nutrient content claims describe the level of a nutrient, such as sugar, in the product using terms such as “free” and “low” or compare the level of a nutrient in a product to that of another product using terms such as “reduced” and “less.”

Sugar Free 

One serving* contains less than 0.5 grams of sugars, both natural and added. (Also listed as free of sugar, sugarless, no sugar, zero sugar, or trivial source of sugar.)

Reduced Sugar

Has at least 25% less sugars than the regular version of the product. (Also listed as less sugar, low in sugar or lower sugar.)

No Added Sugar

No sugar or ingredient containing sugar was added during processing or packaging. (Also listed as without added sugar or no sugar added.

*The labeled serving size and/or the reference amount customarily consumed (RACC).

Products with sugar claims often contain a sugar substitute or low-calorie sweetener. This is how they can contain less sugars but maintain the sweetness expected in the food or drink.

But just because a product has a sugar content claim doesn’t mean it’s good for you. For example, a sugary breakfast cereal can claim it has “reduced sugar” or that it’s “lightly sweetened” (a meaningless, unregulated term). This can fool health-conscious shoppers into thinking it’s a better choice.
Companies use terms such as “30% less sugar” to advertise products. These claims can make products appear healthier than they really are. Some products with these claims actually have more sugar than products without those claims. It can be misleading to make a decision about a product based on a package claim.  

How to make healthier choices

When you see a sugar content claim on a product, use the information on the Nutrition Facts label and ingredients list to make sure it’s a healthier choice. Know the American Heart Association’s recommended daily limit for added sugars. And follow these general tips:

One of the best ways to reduce added sugars in your diet is to limit sugary drinks, including regular soda, sweet tea, coffee drinks, sports and energy drinks, and sweet fruit juices such as apple and grape. Make water your default choice. If you crave something with a bit more flavor, add some slices of citrus or cucumber to your water, or sip on unsweetened iced tea or coffee.

Bottom line

If you eat a lot of sweets or drink sugary beverages regularly, finding replacement products with less added sugar can be a good way to start cutting back and improving your health. Switch to unsweetened products when possible. Over time, your palate will adjust, and you won’t even miss the sugary taste.


Nationally Supported by

Egg Nutrition Center

Nationally Supported by
Egg Nutrition Center

Eggland's Best

Nationally Supported by
Eggland's Best