Unraveling Natural vs. Added Sugar

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

There’s a big difference between natural and added sugars—but they confuse the heck out of a lot of people. With big debates shunning sugar, let’s set the record straight: not all sugar is bad!

Simple Sugars
Most folks refer to this category as natural sugars. Here comes the science….Natural sugars can be categorized as single (“mono”) and double (“di”) sugars. The body can absorb sugar in its single or “mono” form. The double or “di” sugar needs to be cut into 2 pieces (or digested) in order to be absorbed.

Single sugars

  • Glucose: Also called dextrose. It’s the primary energy source your body uses.
  • Fructose: It’s found in fruit and honey. It’s the sweetest of all natural sugars.
  • Galactose: It’s the building block of milk (or milk sugar).


Double sugars

  • Sucrose: It’s the combo of glucose + fructose which is commonly known as table sugar or granulated sugar.
  • Maltose: It’s the combo of glucose + glucose.  It’s pretty abundant in sprouting seeds and is produced when making beer.
  • Lactose: It’s the combo of glucose + galactose and is found in milk products like yogurt, cheese, and milk. Some folks lack the enzyme lactase that breaks the double sugar into their single components (that’s why they get bloating and gas).


It’s important to remember fruit and dairy products provide us with a ton of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that our bodies need.

Added Sugar
These include white sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and other sweeteners that are added by food manufacturers into packaged goodies. They go into foods like soda, energy drinks, salad dressings, cakes, and reduced fat peanut butter. The majority of added sugars doesn’t supply any nutritional value and are considered empty calories. Americans end up eating way too many calories from foods with added sugar. This inevitably leads to obesity, especially if you’re a coach potato.

The recommendations for added sugar (not natural sugar) are 9 teaspoons per day for men and 6 for women. That’s equivalent to 36 grams of added sugar per day for men and 24 grams for women.

The Confusion
Trying to read a nutrition facts panel can make your head spin, especially when you’re trying to figure out the amount of added sugar. The nutrition label gives you the grams of sugar, but it combines natural and added sugar.

Take flavored yogurt, for example, it contains lactose (the natural sugar from milk) and food companies add sugar to sweeten it. The yogurt containing natural sugars (lactose) also has nutrients like calcium, riboflavin, and vitamin B12 while the added sugar has no other added value.

What’s A Consumer To Do?
Keep reading the food labels, but if you want to know if sugar was added check the ingredient list. You’ll see the any of the following words:  sugar, high fructose corn syrup, dehydrated cane juice, maltodextrin, and other such funky terms.  The closer the word is to the beginning of the ingredient list, the more of it is used (by weight).

LET’S DISCUSS: Do you think all sugar is bad? How do you control your added sugar?

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9 Comments on “Unraveling Natural vs. Added Sugar

Stacy Says:

My head does spin when i look at Nutrition Facts label,

I use NxtNutrio iPhone App so I don’t need to ready the confusion labels. NextNutrio gives a green, yellow, or red symbol to purchase, caution, or alert me of harmful ingredients. It that easy :)

Shondra Says:

I’ve been cutting out a lot of added sugars from my diet in order to lose some weight I gained after having 2 boys in under 2 years. I do get a little confused, but I do what you suggest…read the ingredient label. If a form of sugar is listed within the first 5 ingredients or so, I don’t eat it.

I’ve also been working out again, but the combination of working out and cutting out added sugars has led me to lose 20 pounds since Christmas. I’m sure that the rest of the weight loss won’t happen so quickly, but it seems that my body does really well with eliminating sugar.

Anyway…just my thoughts. Thanks for breaking this down for us.

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