What to Know About Different Types of and Names for Sugar

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, RD, LD, MPH on July 14, 2023
3 min read

There are over 61 different names for sugar. Some are familiar, such as high-fructose corn syrup. Some names — like mannose — may not sound like sugar at all. It's important to understand how much sugar you're eating, because having too much sugar has been linked to many diseases.

There are many different sources and names of sugar. There are three types of monosaccharides, which means they are the simplest form of sugar. There are also sugars that are made of combinations of these monosaccharides. Sugars made from two types of monosaccharides are called disaccharides.

Glucose. Glucose is a monosaccharide. It is widely found in a variety of foods. It's the most common form of sugar in plants. Glucose is the type of sugar that our bodies use for fuel. No matter what forms of sugar we eat, our bodies break most of them down into glucose. Glucose pairs with other simple sugars to form the disaccharides.

Fructose. Fructose is also a monosaccharide. It's a type of sugar that is found in fruits, honey, and some root vegetables. Fructose is the sweetest of all naturally occurring sugars. Fructose can only be metabolized in your liver. 

Galactose. This is the third common monosaccharide. It is made up of the same elements as glucose, but they are arranged differently. Galactose is mainly found as a monosaccharide in peas.

Sucrose. Sucrose is made of one part glucose and one part fructose joined together. Sucrose is naturally found in plants. Table sugar is sucrose. It's usually made from sugarcane or sugar beets.

Lactose. Lactose is the sugar naturally found in milk and dairy products. Lactose is made up of glucose and galactose. Lactose produces lactic acid, which is needed for fermentation to make yogurt and cheese. You need a specific enzyme known as lactase to break down lactose into glucose and galactose so that your body can absorb it. If you don't have that enzyme, you may be lactose-intolerant.

Maltose. Maltose is made of two glucose molecules bound together. It naturally occurs as the byproduct of breaking down carbohydrates. It's found in sprouted grains. Grains produce it when they break down starch to sprout.

Ultimately, your body processes all sugar in the same way. Natural sugars and added sugars have the same chemical structures. Natural sugars are the sugars that are found naturally in foods. Food manufacturers commonly add sugar to products.  

The difference is that natural sugars occur in fruits and vegetables that contain fiber and healthy nutrients. There isn’t usually a lot of natural sugar present in foods. Even a sweet fruit like an apple has only 19 grams of sugar. It also has 3 grams of fiber as well as vitamins and compounds that may help protect you from cancer and heart disease.

A 20-ounce bottle of soda has 69 grams of sugar. Soda has no fiber and no nutritional benefits. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 24 grams of added sugar per day for women and 36 grams for men.

Foods with too much sugar contribute to health problems such as:

  • Poor nutrition, because foods with added sugars often take the place of healthier, more nutritious foods
  • Weight gain, because it's easy to overeat sugary foods and drinks
  • Tooth decay, because sugar allows bacteria to grow on your teeth
  • High triglycerides, because sugar increases the amount of this type of fat in your blood

To help you keep track of how much added sugar you're getting in your food, the Food and Drug Administration now requires food labels to include how much total sugar is in a serving as well as how much added sugar is in a serving. Added sugars don't include the natural sugars found in food.

Food manufactures have to list the ingredients on a food label in order by weight. Sweeteners that come in forms other than table sugar may be listed by other names, including:

  • Agave nectar
  • Brown sugar
  • Evaporated cane juice
  • Malt syrup
  • Fructose
  • Maple syrup
  • Cane crystals
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • Molasses
  • Cane sugar
  • Glucose
  • Raw sugar
  • Corn sweetener
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Sucrose
  • Corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Syrup
  • Crystalline fructose
  • Invert sugar
  • Dextrose
  • Maltose