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Home / Blog / Think you know sugar? Think again: Unpacking the 6 types of simple sugars that food producers need to know.

Think you know sugar? Think again: Unpacking the 6 types of simple sugars that food producers need to know.

When you think of “sugar,” what comes to mind? Is it a spoon overflowing with tiny white crystals?

For many consumers, that’s likely the image that pops up first. But food producers and brands know otherwise, or at least they think they do.

While they typically know more about sugar than the average consumer, food brands still lack some fundamental knowledge regarding this common ingredient—and that’s not to their benefit.

Rather than being one homogenous substance, “simple sugars” come in six different forms that food manufacturers must be aware of.

So, if food and beverage producers want to get their products approved by regulators, onto the shelves, and into the hands of loyal customers, they need to know the basics of simple sugars, including what they are and how to measure them.

Read on to find out more.

What are the 6 different simple sugars that food producers & brands need to know?

Simple sugars, or monosaccharides, make up the most basic form of carbohydrates. We refer to these sugars as "simple" because they have a basic molecular structure that the body can’t break down further.

The most common simple sugars are glucose, fructose, and galactose. These sugars are found in various foods and are essential for providing energy to our bodies.

However, there are six simple sugars that food producers and brands need to know about.


As the most essential simple sugar in the human body, glucose serves as a primary energy source for cells. Many foods, including fruits, vegetables, and grains, naturally contain glucose.

When humans consume carbohydrates, they break down the carbs into glucose and absorb it into the bloodstream.

This process helps maintain blood sugar levels and provides a stable energy supply to the body's tissues and organs.

Because it plays an essential role in brain function and physical activity, glucose represents a vital element of a healthy, balanced diet.


Naturally found in fruits, honey, and some root vegetables, fructose earns its reputation as the sweetest of all the naturally occurring sugars.

This signature sweetness makes it a go-to additive in processed foods and beverages to enliven their flavors.

Unlike glucose, which the body's cells use directly for energy, fructose becomes primarily metabolized in the liver.

Although it’s healthy to consume moderate amounts of fructose from natural sources like fruits, eating large amounts of fructose in processed foods and sugary drinks can lead to insulin resistance, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and other health issues.


While less commonly found in its free form, the simple sugar galactose is an essential component of lactose, which is found in milk and dairy products.

When the body consumes lactose, it breaks this simple sugar down into glucose and galactose. The liver then converts galactose into glucose, providing another source of energy.

Individuals with lactose intolerance find it difficult to digest lactose, which causes digestive discomfort or even symptoms like bloating and diarrhea.


Sucrose most closely resembles the heaping spoonful of white crystals that come to mind when we think of sugar. Also referred to as “table sugar,” sucrose is a disaccharide comprised of one molecule of glucose and one molecule of fructose.

Sucrose resides naturally in numerous plants, especially sugar beets and sugarcane. It sees extensive use as a sweetener in foods and beverages across the globe.

When we consume sucrose, the body breaks it down into component sugars—glucose and fructose. Once in their simpler form, glucose and fructose become absorbed by the body and used for energy.

Although sucrose adds both flavor and sweetness to foods, over-consumption of this simple sugar can lead to tooth decay, obesity, increased risk of type 2 diabetes, and other health problems. So, proceed with caution when adding this sugar to processed foods and beverages.


Commonly referred to as “malt sugar,” maltose—a disaccharide—consists of two glucose molecules. During the digestive process, the body forms maltose by breaking down starches.

As a common ingredient in malted foods and beverages like beer and milkshakes, maltose offers food a mild sweetness compared to other sugars.

For this reason and others, maltose lends itself well to producing fermented beverages and baked goods, such as breads and pastries.

Like other sugars, maltose provides energy but has a less significant impact on blood sugar levels than sucrose.


As an abundant part of milk and dairy products, the disaccharide lactose consists of one molecule of galactose and one molecule of glucose.

The body digests lactose by breaking this simple sugar into its component sugars using the enzyme lactase.

The small intestines produce lactase; however, many individuals have low levels of this enzyme. This condition results in lactose intolerance, which can cause digestive issues such as gas, bloating, and even diarrhea if a lactose-intolerant individual consumes dairy products.

Despite its widespread intolerance, lactose represents a significant source of energy and nutrients for many individuals, especially when consumed in processed dairy products like cheese and yogurt.

What does the FDA require when it comes to labeling sugars?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires food brands to label the sugars in processed foods as a way of helping consumers make informed choices.

FDA regulations require food labels to display the total amount of sugars per serving, which includes sugars that occur naturally and added sugars.

In this case, the FDA considers “added sugars” the sugars that food producers mix into a product during its preparation or processing. Sucrose added to a scone or high fructose corn syrup added to a carbonated beverage each represents an example of added sugars.

Given the differences between simple sugars, the FDA requires food and beverage labels to differentiate between added sugars and naturally occurring sugars by listing them separately under the “Total Sugars” heading.

The labeling requirements continue from there. The FDA also mandates the use of Nutrition Facts labels that display the percentage of the daily value (%DV) of added sugars in a 2,000-calorie diet.

In theory, this percentage gives consumers a deeper understanding of how much a serving of their food counts toward their daily intake of added sugars. The FDA sets the percentage of the daily value for added sugars at 50 grams per day, which amounts to 10% of daily calories.

Finally, the FDA specifies that food brands and manufacturers establish consistent serving sizes and use simple language to avoid confusing or misleading consumers. As with all other FDA regulations, these guidelines increase transparency and help consumers manage how much sugar they consume.

How do food brands accurately measure simple sugars?

Without accurate testing to determine the types and levels of sugars in their products, food manufacturers risk fines, product seizures, injunctions, recalls, and lawsuits.

So, what types of testing should food brands and manufacturers consider when testing sugar content?

Two specific tests can help:

Sugar Profile by High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) Test

This method helps food producers determine the levels of fructose, galactose, glucose, sucrose, maltose, and lactose in a given product.

Once the sugars have been extracted and cleaned up, the HPLC test quantifies the appropriate dilution.

If you’re looking for a place to conduct an HPLC test, Medallion Labs makes the process quick, simple, and affordable. The average test costs $130 per analysis, and Medallion Labs will have results back to you within an average of seven to nine business days.

You can learn more about this testing method byclicking here.

Sugar Alcohol Screen Test (Gas Chromatograph)

For food producers, it’s crucial to know that sugar alcohols interfere with the simple sugars (fructose, galactose, glucose, sucrose, maltose, lactose) focused on earlier.

TheSugar Alcohol Screen Testreports the simple sugars that experience interference from sugar alcohols.

So, if your sample contains sugar alcohols and you need to determine total sugar, then you’ll likely need to conduct a Sugar Alcohol Screen (Gas Chromatograph) test in addition to the HPLC test described above.

Adding the results of these two tests together will help food producers determine a product's total sugar.

Discover additional details for this test byclicking here. Orask our sales teamabout our “Total Sugar Package.”

Report sugar levels with confidence through quality testing

When it comes to accurately determining and reporting simple sugars and total sugars in your products, working with the experts at Medallion Labs removes the guesswork and anxiety from the process.

Our accreditation ensures that our Quality Management System and in-scope analytical methods satisfy the strict requirements of governing bodies like the FDA.

The quality policies, procedures, and detailed work instructions at Medallion Labs help us guarantee that proper technical, managerial, and operating practices get used in our laboratories.

As our customer, you can expect high-quality, reliable results time after time. Connect withone of our expertstoday to find the testing you need.