By now you’ve probably heard that eating less sugar can be good for your health.
But fun fact: there are different types of sugar! Two kinds, to be exact. There are natural sugars and added sugars.
“Our brain needs sugar to survive – natural sugar,” says Kerry Glassman, MS, RD, CDN.
But your brain and body can do without has been added Sugar, which is usually put in foods that don’t contain sugar.
Here’s a deep dive into the differences between the two sugars and how you can use this knowledge to improve your eating habits.
What is natural and added sugar?
- natural sugar Found in food from scratch. They are present in fruits, some vegetables and dairy foods.
- Added sugars Not native to foods, and added to enhance flavor.
Even when sugar comes from a seemingly healthy source, such as honey or agave, it’s considered an added sugar if it’s not in the food to begin with.
While it’s true that these substances may have nominally more nutritional value than straight-up processed sugar, they lack fiber and therefore have similar effects.
For example, a serving of plain nonfat Greek yogurt naturally contains about five grams of sugar. This is the sugar that you get from curd-go.
But a serving of sweetened vanilla nonfat Greek yogurt contains 14 grams of sugar, some of which was added during the manufacturing process.
What is the difference between natural and added sugar?
Here’s the surprising part about sugar: “There is no chemical difference between natural and added sugar,” explains Dr. Robert Lustig, MD, MSL, who is based in San Francisco. “They are made of the same molecule – glucose and fructose.” There is also lactose, which is found in dairy products.
Technically, your body can’t tell the difference between natural sugar and added sugar.
That means a scoop of table sugar, a slice of agave, and the lactose in that Greek yogurt are all processed in the same way in your body.
Sugar is sugar, no matter what the name is.
But there is This is the difference between foods containing carbohydrates.
Foods with natural carbohydrates come with other healthy ingredients, such as fiber and nutrients, which provide your body with good nutrition and help your body process sugar in a healthy fashion.
On the other hand, added sugar does not offer these benefits and can do more harm than good if consumed in excess.
Is sugar in fruit bad for you?
You don’t need to worry about the sugar in the fruit. When you eat sugar naturally in whole fruits and vegetables, it comes with the benefits of fiber.
“When you consume (soluble) fiber, it creates a gel in your gut that creates a barrier to slow fructose absorption, which protects your liver,” Lustig explains.
However, “when you eat added sugar except Fiber, you’re flooding your liver,” says Lustig.
When you overload the liver with fructose, it turns the excess into fat, he adds.
Is added sugar bad for you?
“Eating high-sugar foods is a waste of your daily calorie intake,” says Michele Pramoulaiko, author of Sugar Free 3.
And worse than wasting your calories, you could be harming your short- and long-term health.
“When you consume excess carbohydrates, your body can experience low-grade inflammation that can put it under stress and lead to poor health,” she says. “By eliminating added sugars from your diet, your gut can better perform its required job as a gatekeeper.”
What foods contain added sugar?
There are some surprising foods that contain added sugar. “Most consumers assume they only need to look at added sugars in sweet treats like cookies and cakes,” says Pramauloyko.
“However, added sugar, refined carbohydrates and artificial sweeteners are present in many major brands of pasta sauce, bread, granola bars, yogurt, ketchup, salad dressings and more.”
To avoid eating added sugar, all you need to do is read the ingredients list on your food. If sugar or another name for it is listed, it is a food with added sugar.