Ask the Dietitian: What Exactly are Sugars?

Ask the Dietitian: What Exactly are Sugars?

Posted by Tori Schmitt, MS, RDN, LD; Diane, MPH, RD, LD on Aug 18th 2021

Why Does My Child's Formula Have "Added Sugar"?

When you hear or read the word “sugar”, what comes to mind? Often, “sugar” is thought to be table sugar which, scientifically, is referred to as sucrose. But this isn’t the entire sugar story. This article reviews the facts you need to know about added sugar labeling so that when you review a product label, you understand what “sugars” are and how this may affect decisions on what you buy especially for your little one.

Recently, the  U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) updated its regulations regarding the labeling of foods. These regulations continue to require a Nutrition Facts Panel on all food labels, but there are some changes. For carbohydrates, the Nutrition Facts Panel must now state the following:

  • Total Carbohydrate
  • Total Sugars
  • And under Total Sugars, “Includes x grams added sugar” 

Let’s further identify what this means and how sugars are classified.

Carbohydrates are classified in three different categories:

  • Monosaccharides: these are made of one carbohydrate molecule and include glucose, fructose, and galactose.
  • Disaccharides: these are made of two carbohydrate molecules attached to each other. Disaccharides include sucrose (one molecule of glucose attached to one molecule of fructose), maltose (one molecule of glucose attached to another molecule of glucose), and lactose (one molecule of glucose attached to one molecule of galactose).
  • Polysaccharides: these are made of three or more carbohydrate molecules. Examples include cellulose, starch, and glycogen.

See the chart below for more information on these carbohydrates (sugars) and their food equivalent: Monosaccharide, Disaccharide, and Polysaccharides Carbohydrates Infographic with common food examples.

On the Nutrition Facts Panel, Total Carbohydrate includes the amount of naturally occurring carbohydrates found in a food or food ingredient plus the amount of carbohydrate added to the product.

Children's Formula Added Sugar Infographic

What are total sugars?

“Total sugars” listed on a food label include the amount of naturally occurring monosaccharides (glucose, fructose, and galactose) and disaccharides (sucrose, maltose, and lactose) plus the amount of monosaccharides and disaccharides that are added to a product.

What are added sugars?

The FDA defines “added sugars” as “sugars that are either added during the processing of foods or are packaged as such. (e.g., a bag of sugar). Added sugars include sugars (free, mono- and disaccharides), sugars 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.” 1

Is lactose an added sugar?

This means that an ingredient like organic lactose, which is a disaccharide, is required to be listed on the nutrition facts panel as an “added sugar.”

Interestingly, the primary source of carbohydrates in breastmilk is lactose. If mother’s milk were to be labeled according to  FDA regulations, the amount of lactose would also have to be declared as “Total Sugars.”

Is lactose needed to provide nutrition?

Lactose (a milk sugar) provides the nutrients and energy needed to support growth and development of children, and it is not the same as sucrose (table sugar).

Glucose is vitally needed in intravenous (IV) solutions. Would an ill patient needing an IV glucose solution want to see “Total Sugars” on the label? Would a parent reading the label of a can of peaches packed in their own fructose containing juices think that the “Total Sugars” amount shown on the label means sucrose (table sugar)?

Certainly, the type of sugar matters - and the intention of why it’s within a particular product is an important part of the conversation on sugar, too. Is it to help provide needed nutrition, or to merely provide sweetness to foods?

Because lactose provides energy for growth and development, Nature’s One knows that it is indeed an important contributor to a child's formula.

What are the expert recommendations on excess sugar?

In a 2015 article written in Pediatrics, the authors conclude that: “commercial toddler foods and infant or toddler snacks, desserts, and juice drinks are of potential concern due to sodium or sugar content. Pediatricians should advise parents to take a look carefully at labels when selecting commercial toddler foods and to limit salty snacks, sweet desserts, and juice drinks.” 2

Many expert bodies recommend limiting added sugar consumption for toddlers. We agree and add that it is important to look at the entirety of what a child eats in a day and to offer a variety of nutrient-rich foods and beverages that maximize vitamins and minerals. While there is indeed negative information on the internet about added sugars in toddler milk, it is important to understand that the primary sugar in  Baby’s Only® Organic Gentle Dairy Toddler Formula is organic lactose, the same sugar found within breastmilk. Delivered with protein, vitamins, and minerals, these formulas offer balanced nutrition to support a child’s growth and development.

We know you want to offer a better start...for life™.

Nature’s One knows you want to offer your child a better start…for life™. We know this means that you are looking at the overall quality and quantity of carbohydrates in your child’s daily diet. As you do this, we hope you understand the labeling of added sugars and how the various types of sugars are unique and important – especially when it comes to your  child’s formula. As you plan a healthy, balanced eating routine for your child, this chart can help! It was prepared by a Registered Dietitian and can help limit excessive added sugars in a child’s diet.

What other questions do you have about added sugars? Let me know by sending an email to!


  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Nutrition and Supplement Facts Labels: Questions and Answers Related to the Compliance Date, Added Sugars, and Declaration of Quantitative Amounts of Vitamins and Minerals: Guidance for Industry. December 2019. Accessed May 10, 2021 from Nutrition and Supplement Facts Labels
  2. Cogswell ME, Gunn JP, Yuan K et al. Sodium and Sugar in Complementary Infant and Toddler Foods. Pediatrics. March 2015, 135 (3) 416-423; DOI: AAP - Sodium and Sugar in Complementary Infant and Toddler Foods Sold in the United States