Ask a nutrition student: A spoonful of sugar

Stacey Arnold

  • I’m so confused about sugar – fruit has sugar and so does candy. Should I include fruit in my diet or should I try to limit my sugar intake? Can you help?
  • —Sugar Mama

Sugar is a sticky subject. Some types are better for you than others. Don’t think that you should cut out the fruit food group completely from your diet – the type of sugar found in fruit is natural. There are two types of naturally occurring sugars: lactose, found in dairy products, and fructose, found in fruit.

Sugar or sugar products that are put in foods are appropriately termed “added” sugars. Examples of added sugars include table sugar poured in coffee, honey drizzled on toast, and high fructose corn syrup found in many processed foods. Added sugars are also found in surprising places, including instant oatmeals, granola bars, ketchup and dried fruit products.

Diets high in added sugars can contribute to heart disease mortality. The average American consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day — women are advised to only consume six teaspoons per day, and men, only nine, according to a study published by the American Heart Association. Clearly America is heavy-handed with the sugar spoon.

Unfortunately, at this point, a consumer can’t determine how much of a food’s sugar is from natural sources versus added – the sugar line of the nutrition facts label is the total amount of sugar from all sources, both natural and added. But by July 26, 2018, food manufacturers will be required to use a brand new nutrition label with an “added sugars” line – thank you, FDA!

Until then, you can see if a product contains added sugars by glancing at the ingredients list. Beware: Added sugar isn’t only indicated by more obvious words such as high fructose corn syrup, brown sugar and sucrose—there are over fifty different pseudonyms for added sugars. Agave syrup, molasses and any ingredient ending in “–ose” all indicate added sugars.

Regardless of a sugar’s original form – natural or added – your body will eventually view the sugar the same way. At the end of the day, every type of carbohydrate – bread, grapes or candy – will be broken down to glucose. Your muscles and brain then use this glucose for fuel.

I know what you’re thinking: if your body doesn’t know the difference between natural and added sugars, why does it matter whether I consume fruit or a sweet confection? The reasoning is this: foods like candy, cakes and cupcakes lack the good-for-you nutrients that foods with naturally occurring sugar provide.

Fruit contains fiber, which keeps you full, and a variety of vitamins and antioxidants. In fact, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines suggest that an individual should consume 1 ½ to two servings of fruit per day depending on a person’s daily calorie requirement.

When it comes to dairy products, in addition to getting lactose, you’re also taking in protein and calcium.

To keep it short and, well, sweet: Be a sugar sleuth when it comes to ingredients, limit the added, and consume the natural in moderation.