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October 08, 2019 / Rebecca Jacobs

Added Sugar vs Natural Sugar: What’s the Difference?

Four doughnuts laying next to each other against a white background all with different toppings.

Between talking about healthier natural sugar options to the health repercussions of consuming too much sugar, sugar talk can get pretty confusing, not to mention overwhelming.

We’re sharing the 101 on sugar, including everything you need to know about the difference between added sugar vs. natural sugar. Plus, we’re letting you in on how much sugar you really should be consuming each day, and how to be sugar savvy when it comes to shopping for your weekly groceries.

What is Added Sugar?

Let’s start with the topic that many of us have questions about. What exactly is added sugar?

Added sugar is sugar (or syrup) that is added to foods. This is done during the processing of packaged foods or added by the consumer before cooking or baking.

There are also natural sweeteners such as honey and pure maple syrup. If you see these on an ingredients list, these are still classified as added sugar.

Common Sources of Added Sugar

So now that we know a bit more about what added sugar is, let’s talk about the fact that added sugar can be found in just about everything boxed or packaged at the grocery store. It can become overwhelming to think about eliminating every single one of these foods. Ideally, you want to focus on balance. Focus on including as many whole and nutrient-dense food options as possible, and less packaged foods. This will help you avoid quite a bit of added sugar.

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To help you become a sugar detective, here are some of the most common sources of added sugar to be concious of:

What is Natural Sugar?

Natural sugars are just as they sound. They are naturally occurring in certain foods such as fruit (in the form of fructose), vegetables, and milk (in the form of lactose).

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What’s the Difference Between Added and Natural Sugar?

There’s a big difference between natural and added sugars.

Natural sugars are naturally occurring in whole foods like fruit that come with added health benefits like fiber and antioxidants.

Added sugars are added during the processing of packaged foods and do not provide any nutrients (besides calories).

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How Much Sugar Should You Eat?

When it comes to how much added sugar you should really be consuming each day, The American Heart Association recommends that we limit our added sugar intake each day. The general recommendation is to avoid eating any more than six teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar per day for women, and nine teaspoons (36 grams) per day for men. This breaks down to 150 calories from added sugar per day for men, and 100 calories for women.

Keep in mind that it’s very easy to go far past that recommendation, especially with high sugar beverages like soda. In one 12-ounce can of Coke, there are a whopping 39 grams of added sugar! That means that a single can would put women and men over their daily recommendation.

It's easy to overdo sugar, so it is important to be mindful of the foods you choose to consume. This is especially true for processed foods that can be high in refined sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. In particular, keep and eye out for high-fructose corn syrup on the ingredients list, as it has been linked to diabetes and obesity. This sweetener is commonly found in soda, juice, ketchup, barbecue sauce, and even bread.

If you are looking for a healthy meal plan, use PlateJoy’s custom meal planner to omit added sugar from your meal plan generator. Your customized meal plan can be designed with your specific meal preferences in mind. Eliminating added sugar from your diet is easier than ever before with a meal planning app.

Are Added or Natural Sugars Bad For You?

Added sugar can quickly become a problem, especially if you aren’t careful about reading food labels. It’s hard to avoid it when consuming packaged and processed foods, and unfortunately, while added sugar provides us with that sweet flavor many of us love, it just adds empty calories to our diet.

Added sugars do not provide us with any added nutrients. With excessive intake over periods of time, it can increase the risk of things like diabetes, weight gain, and even heart disease.

Another big problem with added sugar is that it’s addictive. The more sugar we consume, the more we tend to crave.

However, it’s important to understand that a healthy diet is not all or nothing. You can have a healthy meal plan without having to give up every single source of sugar. It’s all about moderation and balance. While natural sugar from fruit is going to be more nutritive than refined sugar, if you enjoy a piece of cake or have a few cookies, not all is lost!

The bottom line is to focus on getting as many whole and nutrient-dense foods into your healthy meal plan as possible. Using a meal planning app can help customize a nutrient-dense, no added sugar healthy meal plan for you that can help you stay on track the majority of the time. But, when you’re at your friend's birthday dinner and that piece of cake is calling your name, allow yourself to enjoy it without guilt. Balance is key, and deprivation is not the answer.

Smart Grocery Shopping Tips

Another thing that will help you stay on track with your healthy meal plan is to consider a few things before you head to the grocery store. Pre-planning is a great way to help avoid unnecessary foods with added sugars sneaking into your shopping cart. Here are a couple of things to consider before you head to the store.

Make a Shopping List

Going to the store without a grocery list is a recipe for disaster. Not only may you be more likely to toss foods into the cart that are loaded with added sugar, but you are also more likely to rack up that grocery bill. You may just toss whatever looks good right into the cart. Ideally, write out your grocery list before you go, or use an online meal planning app like PlateJoy that will give you a shopping list for each weekly plan. Talk about making your life ten times easier, right?


Don’t Go Hungry

One of the biggest shopping mistakes is to hit the grocery store while you’re hungry. Think about it. You’re surrounded by food in the grocery store, and if you haven’t had lunch, you may just grab whatever is convenient, without considering its nutritional value. The lesson here is to fuel up before you go! This will give you much better shopping success.

Check Ingredients Labels

Checking the ingredient list is also going to serve as a valuable tool to help you avoid adding too much sugar to your diet. Aside from the obvious added sugars (like cane sugar and high-fructose corn syrup), take a look at the back of the package and look for words that end is “ose” or contain the word "syrup." These are added sugars. Many nutrition labels now have a specific line for "Added Sugars."

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Opt for Things Without Packaging

The more whole foods you can consume that don’t even come with a nutrition label or packaging, the better! Things like fruits and veggies with naturally containing sugars are your best bet. Choose these as often as you can.

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Meal Plan to Make Food at Home

The last tip is to meal plan and make food at home. PlateJoy does the work for you and can create a custom weekly meal plan without added sugars. Using an online meal planning app can help you make more food at home, which means you avoid the added sugars you would normally get if you were eating food out.


The Takeaway

Sugar consumption in the U.S. is high. Back in 2012, it was estimated that the average adult was consuming 77 grams of added sugar each day. With hidden sugars being so prevalent in the food system, you may be consuming more sugar than you know.

To help support health and reduce the risk of chronic disease linked to excess sugar consumption like diabetes and obesity, focus on a whole foods clean eating approach. You don't need to completely deprive or cut out food groups, but being concious of what you eat and limiting added sugar can help promote better health long term.

Rebecca Jacobs
Certified Holistic Nutrition Consultant @ Holistic Balance Nutrition

Rebecca Jacobs N.C is a Certified Holistic Nutrition Consultant, specializing in digestive and women's health. She takes a holistic approach to wellness, doesn't believe in "dieting," and believes that healthy eating must be delicious. Rebecca is also a recipe developer and creates healthy alternatives to traditionally unhealthy foods.

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