Natural vs. Added Sugar: What You Need To Know

Article posted in: Nutrition
Natural vs Added Sugar

There are many different types of sugar: There’s cane sugar, there’s honey, there’s sucralose, there’s brown sugar. Some sweeteners—namely high fructose corn syrup—are said to be worse than others, but the truth is that sugar is sugar. It sweetens foods and adds calories but offers virtually no nutritional benefits. Your intake of added sugar should be monitored.

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommends adults eat no more than 10 percent of your calories from added sugar daily. For those on a 2,000 calorie per day diet, this equates to 12 teaspoons. For those on a 1,500 calorie per day diet, this number drops to nine teaspoons and for those on 1,200 calorie per day diet program, it drops even lower… to seven teaspoons.

Before you think, “I got this,” and vow to limit soda (which has eight teaspoons of sugar), ice cream (which has about three or four teaspoons per one cup) or chocolate (the sky’s the limit!), you should know how many hidden sugars flavor our everyday foods.

For example: One tablespoon of ketchup has about four grams of sugar… and most people put about three tablespoons on their burgers. Other sneaky sources of added sugar include gourmet coffees, fruit juices, instant oatmeal, granola bars, cereals, yogurts and pasta sauce. A Department of Health and Human Services data review found that American adults consume 13.4 percent of their calories from added sugars. Kids consume 17 percent from hidden sugars.

So why is sugar so bad for you, anyway? Well, it’s not all bad—and we’ll get to that in a minute. But excess sugar intake can raise your risk of dying of heart disease even if you’re not overweight, according to Harvard Health. It also leads to weight gain, inflammation, declining liver function, cavities, high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels, type 2 diabetes and it can have a negative impact on cognition.

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Just one can of soda causes our blood sugar to spike and release too much insulin, which then puts the body in a hypoglycemic state, dropping our blood sugar lower than before we drank that soda (or ate that chocolate cake). As a result, our bodies dump fat into the blood stream because we think we’re starving.

To gauge how the body reacts to natural fructose (sugar from fruit), researchers at the University of Eastern Finland wanted to see what would happen when healthy women consumed excess sugar with berries. The results were interesting: Women who ate the berries had less of a spike in blood sugar, and no hypoglycemic dip, despite the added sugar. Blood sugar went up and down normally. Scientists think the presence of fiber in fruit slows the release of sugar in the intestine while phytonutrients block the intake of some of the sugar.

Bottom line: If you’re going to eat dessert, pair it with, or make sure it includes, fruit. What’s even more important? Sugar breaks down to glucose, which helps to fuel your body. Natural sugars found in fruits, vegetables and dairy products can help satisfy those energy needs and provide us with fiber and a variety of vitamins and minerals. Added sugars may be addictive, provide very little, if any, nutritional benefits and are eaten purely for pleasure.

For some delicious smoothies that provide a serving of fruit with natural sugar, check out our Peach-Raspberry Shake Recipe and Blackberry Banana Smoothie Recipe.

To help limit your intake of added sugar, read the labels of your favorite foods next time you go to the supermarket. Choose foods that limit any kind of added sugar in the ingredients list. If you’re not happy with the alternatives, consider making your own pasta sauce or fruity yogurt. You can even make your own baked goods and use fruit purees (think applesauce or mashed banana) in place of sugar.