Sugar 101

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Naturally occurring sugars and added sugars

There are two types of sugars in foods: naturally occurring sugars and added sugars.

  • Naturally occurring sugars are found naturally in foods such as fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose).
  • Added sugars include any sugars or caloric sweeteners that are added to foods or beverages during processing or preparation (such as putting sugar in your coffee or adding sugar to your cereal). Added sugars (or added sweeteners) can include natural sugars such as white sugar, brown sugar and honey, as well as other caloric sweeteners that are chemically manufactured (such as high fructose corn syrup). 

Sources of added sugars

The  major sources of added sugars in American diets are sugary beverages, desserts, sweet snacks, sweetened coffee, sweetened tea and candy.

Finding added sugars in food

Read the Nutrition Facts on the food label to understand how much added sugar is in a food.

  • Total sugars include both added sugars and natural sugars.
  • Added sugars are the ones you want to limit.
  • Naturally occurring sugars are found in milk (lactose) and fruit (fructose). Any product that contains milk (such as yogurt, milk or cream) or fruit (fresh, dried) contains some natural sugars.

For items such as granulated or powdered sugar, maple syrup or honey that are sold as separate food products, only total sugars may be listed. However, you need to be aware those are 100% added sugars.

If there is no Nutrition Facts label on a prepared food in the grocery store or restaurant, some ingredients on the package or menu will tell you that the product contains added sugars using a different name.

Names for added sugars on labels include:

  • Brown sugar
  • Corn sweetener
  • Corn syrup
  • Fruit juice concentrates
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Invert sugar
  • Malt sugar
  • Molasses
  • Raw sugar
  • Sugar
  • Sugar molecules ending in “ose” (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose)
  • Syrup

On some food products, you may see claims related to sugars. Here are some common terms and their meanings:

  • Sugar-Free – less than 0.5 g of sugar per serving;  contains no ingredient that is a sugar
  • Reduced Sugar or Less Sugar – at least 25 percent less sugars per serving compared to a standard serving size of the traditional variety
  • No Added Sugars or Without Added Sugars – no sugars or sugar-containing ingredient is added during processing
  • Low Sugar – not defined or allowed as a claim on food labels 

Need to Reduce Added Sugars

Although sugars are not harmful in small amounts to the body, our bodies don’t need added sugars to function properly. Added sugars contribute additional calories and zero nutrients to food. 

Over the past 30 years, Americans have steadily consumed more and more added sugars in their diets. Reducing added sugars can help you to cut calories, improve your heart health and control your weight.

The American Heart Association recommends limiting the amount of added sugars you consume. 

Calories and added sugars

You have a daily energy need — the amount of calories (or energy units) your body needs to function and provide energy for your activities. Think of your daily energy need as a budget. You’d organize a real budget with “essentials” (things like rent and utilities) and “extras” (such as vacation and entertainment). In a daily calorie budget, the essentials are the minimum number of calories you need to meet your nutrient needs.

Depending on the foods you choose and the amount of physical activity you do each day, you may have calories leftover for “extras” such as:

  • Eating additional foods from a food group above your daily recommendation.
  • Selecting a food that’s higher in fat or contains added sugars (whole milk vs. skim or sweetened vs. unsweetened cereal).
  • Adding dressing or sauce to a food.
  • Eating dessert.

The American Heart Association recommendations for a heart-healthy eating pattern will help you to focus on the essentials first.

 

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