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Simplifying Sugar: The Difference Between Added and Natural Sugars

Simplifying Sugar: The Difference Between Added and Natural Sugars

This week, SPE Certified Culinary Nutritionist Andrea Canada clarifies the confusion surrounding sugar labeling.

Nutrition labels are currently packed with information to help consumers know more about what’s actually in their food. Labels are required to include the total grams of sugar in a food, but the sugar content of a food includes two types of sugar - sugars found naturally in the ingredients, and added sugar. 

Added sugar is receiving quite a bit of attention lately. Guidance from the American Heart Association (AHA) and USDA’s My Plate recommends that Americans reduce the amount of added sugar in their diets. In addition, the World Health Organization recommends that less than 10% of your recommended daily calories should come from added sugar. The AHA recommends 100-150 calories a day from added sugar, depending on how many calories you require (note a teaspoon of sugar is about 16 kcal). At 4kcal/g, that’s anywhere from 25-50g of added sugar a day.

The trouble is that it's hard for the average American to know how much added sugar is in his or her food, since both natural and added sugars are combined into one number on a food label. Therefore, the FDA is considering requiring food labels to break out the amount of added sugar in a dish. As a dietitian, I can appreciate the idea that providing more information to consumers will help them to make educated decisions about what they’re eating - but all this talk about added and natural sugars can be quite confusing.

Sugars are simple carbohydrates which our body breaks down for energy. Sweeteners like sugar (whether white, brown, powdered, cane or beet derived), corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, honey, agave and molasses are almost entirely composed of sugar. However, sugars are also naturally present as fructose in fruits and lactose in dairy products. Therefore, something like fruit yogurt includes both natural sugars from the yogurt and fruit as well as added sugar to add sweetness. 

At SPE, we break out the added and natural sugars in our nutritional analysis so that diners can be aware of it and to be as transparent as possible. Until added sugar is on a nutrition label, you can look at the ingredients list to see where sugar is listed (ingredients are listed by weight, so if any form of sugar is near the top or if several different types of sugar appear, it’s likely there’s a decent amount of added sugar in the food). While candy and sugar-sweetened beverages obviously have added sugar, some other foods to check the ingredients for sugar include sports drinks, sweetened teas and coffee drinks, fruit yogurts, cereals, and some dried fruits.

nutrition facts, added sugar, nutrition advice


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