Natural Sugar vs Added Sugar - What is the Difference?
Updated: Dec 22, 2020
What is the difference? Where do they come from? How do they affect our health?
Check it all out below to determine the differences between Natural Sugar vs Added Sugar.
What is Added Sugar?
Added sugar, processed sugar, or refined sugar (all the same thing) are the standard sweeteners that are added to foods (baked goods, candy, soda, ice cream, dressings, sauces, the list goes on and on...) when they are processed and prepared. They are simple carbohydrates, which digest quickly, causing spikes in blood sugar, and leaving us feeling hungry and less satisfied.
What is Natural Sugar?
Natural sugar is found in foods like milk and fruit. The sweetness naturally occurs in those food items (hence "natural sugar"), and there is no additional sweetness added.
So, is natural sugar good for you? In a way - yes! These food items come with a whole bunch of awesome nutritional qualities - important vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein - making them more nutrient dense and giving you more bang for your buck in terms of nutritional quality. The fiber and protein in these foods allows the sugars to digest more slowly, causing our blood sugar to remain nice and steady.
How can we Tell if a Product has Added or Natural Sugar?
When you are checking the nutrition label of a product, you will there is a line for "total sugar" and "added sugar." Total sugar will list the total grams of sugar, including the added sugars. Added sugar will only include the grams of sugar coming from additional ingredients. You may also see a note on the package stating "no added sugar" - meaning any sugar found in this product occurs naturally.
The ingredient list can also show where sneaky added sugars may be hiding (remember: ingredients are listed in order, starting with the greatest amount and moving through the list to the smallest amount). If sugar, sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, honey, maple syrup, fruit juice concentrate, or any other doppelganger name for sugar is listed high up on the list - there is most likely a large amount of added sweetness.
Picture this Sugary Situation
Imagine you are in the mood for glass of orange juice with breakfast. How many oranges do you think you would have to freshly squeeze to fill up a glass? A bunch right?? Also, juicing naturally sweetened fruit, it is being stripped of all it's fabulous nutrition qualities (poor fruit)!
Juice is wonderful (I am definitely allllll for a refreshing glass of juice!), but in terms of sugar, juice is basically a condensed version of the fruit. Meaning more sugar with less health and nutritional benefits.
In Terms of Our Health
Taking that juice concept over to the bigger picture --- the more added sugar we consume, whether from juice or sugar in our coffee, sugar leads to increased inflammation, elevated risk for heart disease, and negative effects on our brain health.
What About the Artificial Stuff?
Yes, artificial sweeteners (Splenda, Truvia, Monk Fruit Extract, Stevia, Erythritol, etc) do not have any calories or nutritional information, but they also do not provide our body with any health benefits.
Here is an awesome blog post by registered dietitian and certified intuitive eating counselor, Rachael Hartley, discussing the debate between using artificial sweeteners or just regular old sugar.
So - What is the Point of the Blog Post?
All in all - sugar, is sugar, is sugar, but the naturally sweetened foods have wayyyyy more nutritional benefits than the foods with added sugars.
Focus on where your sugar is coming from, how you feel after consuming those food items, and how much total sugar (natural and added) you are having throughout the day.