What's the difference between added sugars and natural sugars?

Oct 14, 2020 | Tara Schmidt | @taraschmidt | Comments (11)

Sugar cubes on a spoon

Written by Victoria Vasquez, Mayo Clinic registered dietitian 

Sugar can be found in a lot of foods such as regular soda, candy, and cereal, but it is also in foods such as fruit and milk. Although these foods all contain sugar, the types of sugar they contain are different. The two types of sugar found in food and beverage items are natural sugar or added sugar. Natural sugar is sugar that is naturally occurring in food such as in fruits and milk.  Added sugar is sugar that has been added to food items during processing to sweeten or enhance the flavor. Examples may include regular soda, candy, sugary cereal, sweetened dairy products (such as ice cream and flavored yogurt), and sweetened coffee beverages.

Added Sugar Guidelines

Overconsuming sugar can be bad for our health, so it is recommended to limit the amount of added sugar in the diet. Added sugar adds extra calories and lacks other beneficial nutrients that foods with natural sugar have. The American Heart Association recommends staying below the following amounts for added sugar in the diet:

  • Women: less than 6 teaspoons or 25 grams of added sugar a day
  • Men: less than 9 teaspoons or 36 grams of added sugar a day

A 12 ounce can of regular Coke contains 39 grams of added sugar, which would exceed the recommendation for men and women for a whole day!

Where to find if a food has added sugar

The nutrition facts label can tell you if a food has added sugar. On the label, total sugar is listed and just below that is the amount of added sugar. If the food item contains no added sugar, then all the sugar in the product is natural sugar. Try to keep the amount of added sugar below the recommendation to help control extra calories your the diet.

Interested in more newsfeed posts like this? Go to the Weight Management blog.

Added sugar (and artificial sweeteners) have no additional nutritional benefits. On the other hand, natural sugars, as found in eating fruit, vegetables, and grains provide many nutrition benefits.

REPLY

Completely agree. By being a savvy shopper, you can outsmart the food industry and avoid accidentally adding "added" sugars. Here are some tips: The nutrition facts panel shows how much sugar is in each serving of a product. Many labels now show added sugars specifically; Any and all added sugars in a product must be shown on the list of ingredients; Ingredients are listed in order from greatest to smallest amount on the list of ingredients. Products with a type of sugar listed first or second are likely high in sugar; A single product may have more than one type of sugar. These sugars may be listed further down on the list of ingredients, but still, add up to a lot of total sugar. Hidden sugars can sneak into your diet, but not if you are savvy! By knowing how to recognize them and what foods you can choose instead of high-sugar foods, you can limit the amount of added sugar in your diet, and that can have all kinds of benefits for health and weight.

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@jacannie6

Completely agree. By being a savvy shopper, you can outsmart the food industry and avoid accidentally adding "added" sugars. Here are some tips: The nutrition facts panel shows how much sugar is in each serving of a product. Many labels now show added sugars specifically; Any and all added sugars in a product must be shown on the list of ingredients; Ingredients are listed in order from greatest to smallest amount on the list of ingredients. Products with a type of sugar listed first or second are likely high in sugar; A single product may have more than one type of sugar. These sugars may be listed further down on the list of ingredients, but still, add up to a lot of total sugar. Hidden sugars can sneak into your diet, but not if you are savvy! By knowing how to recognize them and what foods you can choose instead of high-sugar foods, you can limit the amount of added sugar in your diet, and that can have all kinds of benefits for health and weight.

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Such good tips, @jacannie6. I'm an avid food label reader. Now I just have to remember to bring my reading glasses with me to shop. It wasn't a necessity until recently, but such is life.

What led you to want to reduce sugar intake? What other things are you watching out for when reading food labels?

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@colleenyoung

Such good tips, @jacannie6. I'm an avid food label reader. Now I just have to remember to bring my reading glasses with me to shop. It wasn't a necessity until recently, but such is life.

What led you to want to reduce sugar intake? What other things are you watching out for when reading food labels?

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Thanks!

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Also remember that added sugars come in different forms. Cane sugar is a different chemical than sugar beets, than Stevia, than apple juice sugars, than __XYZ__, etc. Something akin to gasoline: Alcohol, E-85, Regular, and Premium. They each have different qualities and effect depending on the how the car is made. Each gas has different energy ratios, burn at different temps/rates.

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Also consider that some carbohydrates act like sugars to the body — the body quickly turns some carbs into blood sugars. This is especially true of processed & refined carbs. They are identified by a high glycemic index.

Whole foods are digested by the body slower and provide more lasting energy, which is good.

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One additional thought: Avoid artificial sweeteners like the plague!

It may sound counter intuitive but the reason is that: you body is looking for some nutrition/energy. You eat/drink something with artificial sweeteners in it. You mind says: I've satisfied my hunger.

Your body after processing the artificial sweetener says: Where's the food! I'm still hungry! Get me some more! NOW!

So you eat much more than you would have if you had just given it just a little bit of sugar. A little sugar to get you past the energy lull, but make sure it's backed by real food (i.e. complex carbs & proteins) for that lasting energy & nutrition.

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@rambler

One additional thought: Avoid artificial sweeteners like the plague!

It may sound counter intuitive but the reason is that: you body is looking for some nutrition/energy. You eat/drink something with artificial sweeteners in it. You mind says: I've satisfied my hunger.

Your body after processing the artificial sweetener says: Where's the food! I'm still hungry! Get me some more! NOW!

So you eat much more than you would have if you had just given it just a little bit of sugar. A little sugar to get you past the energy lull, but make sure it's backed by real food (i.e. complex carbs & proteins) for that lasting energy & nutrition.

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I have always tried to avoid foods with artificial sweeteners by learning common names used on food & drink labels such as Aspartame, Saccharin, and Sucralose, but I am still confused about Truvia and Erythritol — if they are considered "true" artificial sweeteners and/or if they are safe to consume in place of cane sugar?

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@tekkie3

I have always tried to avoid foods with artificial sweeteners by learning common names used on food & drink labels such as Aspartame, Saccharin, and Sucralose, but I am still confused about Truvia and Erythritol — if they are considered "true" artificial sweeteners and/or if they are safe to consume in place of cane sugar?

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Truvia is considered a nonnutritive sweetener, while erythritol is a sugar alcohol. They both could be considered as sugar substitutes and are "generally recognized as safe (GRAS)" by the FDA. At the end of the day, it up to you! I like to ask patients if these types of products are helping them (perhaps by decreasing their total calorie intake), their average intake in terms of frequency and amount and whether or not they are necessary in that person's diet. Have you replaced an added sugar with these products for the purpose of weight management?

Some additional reading if you're interested:
https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/mayo-clinic-q-and-a-artificial-sweeteners-aye-or-nay/
https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/how-sweet-it-all-about-sugar-substitutes

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Didn't the FDA think that saccharine was safe for years, until they didn't? 😱 The fact that they state that newlyAfvan

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@taraschmidt

Truvia is considered a nonnutritive sweetener, while erythritol is a sugar alcohol. They both could be considered as sugar substitutes and are "generally recognized as safe (GRAS)" by the FDA. At the end of the day, it up to you! I like to ask patients if these types of products are helping them (perhaps by decreasing their total calorie intake), their average intake in terms of frequency and amount and whether or not they are necessary in that person's diet. Have you replaced an added sugar with these products for the purpose of weight management?

Some additional reading if you're interested:
https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/mayo-clinic-q-and-a-artificial-sweeteners-aye-or-nay/
https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/how-sweet-it-all-about-sugar-substitutes

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Thank you for details and sweetener differences on Truvia and Erythritol. Great info!

The Mayo Clinic article was a little vague as it did not mention or differentiate between different types of sufficient sweeteners. Also a little scary they are still listing "benefits" of artificial sweeteners over sugar.

On FDA article, didn't the FDA think that saccharine was safe for years, until they didn't? 😱 The fact they state newly approved Advantame is closely chemically related to Aspartame is enough to keep me away from it!

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