Woman reading food label on a box of sweets

Sugars labelling

Exploring how sugars are labelled on packaged foods and drinks

Food labels contain information about the nutrient content of packaged foods or drinks. The purpose of food labelling is to provide consumers with enough information to make an informed decision about the foods and drinks they consume. The information displayed on nutrition and health is regulated by the country in which that product is sold. This means there are certain rules about what must be shown on the packaging and how it is displayed. 

The labelling of sugars on packaged foods and drinks varies across the globe. Relevant local labelling regulations usually require the majority of packaged foods and drinks to display information on the ingredients they contain. Therefore, if a packaged food or drink contains sugars, the ingredients list will name the type of sugars it contains. Many countries also require products to state the amount of sugars they contain and have rules on when and how sugars-related nutrient claims can be used.

Label on a product

Ingredients list

Sugars come in different forms. The ingredients list identifies all types of sugars and sweetening ingredients in a packaged food or drink in descending order of quantity. Examples of sugars and sweetening ingredients include sugar, sucrose, glucose, fructose, lactose, maltose, maltodextrin, syrups, nectars, molasses, honey, agave and fruit juice concentrate. Sugars naturally-occurring in the food or drink, for example the sugars in raisins or milk, are not listed as such.
Label on product pointing to sugars

Nutrient content

In many countries, the amount of sugars a packaged food or drink contains needs to be stated. You can find this information on the back of the packaging in a nutrient contents panel. The layout of this panel needs to comply with the regulations in that country. In most countries, it is the amount of total sugars (naturally-occurring sugars and added sugars combined) which needs to be stated. In a few countries (such as the US), the amount of added sugars also needs to be stated (1).
Sugars definitions
Labelling systems

Front of pack labelling

Mandatory and voluntary front of pack labelling exists in many countries. The layout, including which nutrient information it contains, is often regulated. These feature information about the overall “health rating” of a product or the amount of calories, fat, total sugars and salt a product contains per serving. This may also be linked to information on the proportion of guideline daily intakes. A few countries, such as Chile and Mexico, require statements to be made on the front of packaging if products are high in calories, saturated fat, salt or sugars, or contain non-sugars sweeteners (4,5).
Lady with yogurt pot

Nutrient content claims

The terms and wordings of sugars related nutrient content claims, such as “low in sugars”, “no added sugars”, “sugar-free”, and “reduction in sugars”, are often regulated and can differ from country to country. In order to make the claims, certain criteria have to be met. For example, in some countries, the claims, “reduction in sugars” or “lower in sugars” means a product must be at least 25% or 30% lower in sugars compared to a similar product within the same food category (8–10). Regulations do not usually require products carrying “no added sugar/reduced sugar” claims on their labels to also be lower in calories than the original product. In the European Union and the UK, the "reduced sugars" claim may only be made if the amount of energy is equal to or less than the amount of energy in a similar product (9,11). There is a call in some countries, such as the US, for products to carry a “Not lower in calories” label, when the total calories are higher or the same as in the original product.

Non-sugar sweeteners

The nutrient content labelling of non-sugar bulk sweeteners, such as allulose, can differ according to the country the product is sold in, and the sweetener used. Many non-sugar bulk sweeteners contain calories but at a much lower level per gram, compared to sugars. Therefore, how these sweeteners are dealt with in the nutrient content labelling, i.e., whether they should be included in calorie, carbohydrates, total and added sugars contents, is a separate topic of discussion amongst policy makers. For example, in the US, allulose is exempt from sugars labelling, whereas tagatose currently needs to be labelled as an added sugar (2,3). 

A message regarding the laxative-effect of some bulk sweeteners, when consumed in excess, is also required to be stated on the label in some countries, including the UK, Australia and New Zealand (6,7).

Non-sugar sweeteners


  1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Guidance for Industry: Declaration of Added Sugars on Honey, Maple Syrup, Other Single-Ingredient Sugars and Syrups, and Certain Cranberry Products. FDA; 2024. 
  2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Guidance for Industry: The Declaration of Allulose and Calories from Allulose on Nutrition and Supplement Facts Labels. FDA; 2024. 
  3. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA Issues Supplemental Response on the Labeling of D-tagatose on the Nutrition Facts Label. FDA. 2024 Jan 19.
  4. Villalobos Dintrans P, Rodriguez L, Clingham-David J, Pizarro T. Implementing a Food Labeling and Marketing Law in Chile. Health Systems & Reform. 2020 Dec 1;6(1):e1753159. 
  5. White M, Barquera S. Mexico Adopts Food Warning Labels, Why Now? Health Systems & Reform. 2020 Dec 1;6(1):e1752063. 
  6. GOV.UK. Food labelling and packaging. https://www.gov.uk/food-labelling-and-packaging/food-and-drink-warnings
  7. Warning and advisory statements | Food Standards Australia New Zealand https://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/labelling/advisory
  8. Government of Canada CFIA. Food labelling for industry. 2015 
  9. GOV.UK. 2022. Great Britain nutrition and health claims (NHC) register. 
  10. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Code of Federal Regulations Title 21
  11. Nutrition claims - European Commission. https://food.ec.europa.eu/safety/labelling-and-nutrition/nutrition-and-health-claims/nutrition-claims_en