Understanding Sugar: Added Vs. Natural

Understanding Sugar: Added Vs. Natural

Photo Credit: Paul, via Flickr Creative Commons

Everyone’s talking about sugar’s impact on our health. The bulk of research that links sugar consumption to diabetes, heart disease, cancer and liver disease primarily focuses on added and refined sugars, as opposed to natural sugars found in whole foods like fruit. The key is to understand the difference, and to limit your overall sugar consumption.

Sugar Science is a good place to start in order to help you make informed decisions. A team of health scientists at UCSF, in collaboration with scientists from UC Davis and Emory School of Medicine, launched this initiative based on leading-edge research on the effects of added sugars on our health. The researchers reviewed more than 8,000 published scientific papers in order to showcase key findings. For example, the site notes that that drinking just one can of soda per day can increase a person’s risk of dying from heart disease by nearly one-third, and can raise the risk of getting type 2 diabetes by one-quarter. Their research also tells us that added sugar is hidden in 74 percent of packaged food.

Sugar has received a bad rap mainly because Americans tend to eat too much of it. Even though added and refined sugars have no nutritional value, it’s important to understand that sugar itself is not harmful in limited quantities. This is especially true when naturally occurring sugars are a part of a healthy, balanced diet. When you eat a piece of fruit, you are also getting important nutrients and health-promoting phytochemicals, along with a good source of fiber. The fiber in fruit slows down digestion and allows the sugar to release more slowly into your blood stream, which provides a sustained source of energy, rather than a spike that comes from refined foods with added sugars.

The American Heart Association recommends limiting the amount of added sugars you consume to no more than half of your daily “extra” calorie allowance. This is the amount of calories that are left over after you have met all your basic nutritional needs for the day. For most American women, that’s no more than 100 calories per day and no more than 150 calories per day for men. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) suggests consuming less than 10 percent of one’s calories from added sugars; less than five percent per day offers additional benefits.

Added and natural sugars defined
Added sugars are sugars that are added to food or beverages during processing or food preparation. Added sugars include natural sugars, like white or brown sugar, honey or agave, or other sugars that are chemically manufactured, such as high fructose corn syrup.

Naturally occurring sugars occur in whole foods, like fruit, dairy and even vegetables and grains. Natural sugars are an important part of a healthy, balanced diet providing us with the energy our bodies and brains need, along with nutrients and fiber.

Looking for other ways to eat more healthily? Reverse heart disease and diabetes, lose weight and reduce your risk of cancer with these tips from Dean Ornish.

This content was originally published on Ornish Living.

Medically reviewed in November 2019.

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