Added vs. Natural Sugar

As nutrition research emerges and new guidelines are created, one thing has remained consistent: eating excess added sugar is not great for our bodies. Because of this, many health coaches, diets and other resources have started promoting different forms of sugar that are “better” for us. But are they? To first determine this, we need to understand the difference between naturally occurring sugars and added sugars.

There are two types of naturally occurring sugar- fructose, which is found in fruit, and lactose from dairy. While these foods still influence your blood sugar levels, there are many additional beneficial nutrients found in these foods. Whole fruits have fiber, which slows down the absorption rate of sugar, and different vitamins/minerals that are great for different parts of the body, depending on which fruit you’re eating. Unflavored milk and dairy contain protein and other vitamins/minerals which are important for our bones and teeth.

Added sugars can be simplified down to any type of sugar that is being added to food during the process of preparation. Think: granulated sugar, sugar on the raw, brown sugar, high fructose corn syrup, etc. These types of sugar likely have little to no positive health benefits and will have a greater effect in the blood stream.  Foods that often contain added sugars include: baked goods, sports drinks, soft drinks, sweetened dairy products, ice cream, etc.

So now the question is: what about sugars like coconut sugar, honey, or real maple syrup? The truth is, these are minimally processed sugars that may contain minor levels of vitamins/minerals that you would not find in the forms of added sugars listed above. However, the body still treats them the same as other sugars in how they are broken down. The small amounts of nutrients found in these sugars are not enough to make a noticeable difference in the body.

Bottom line: limiting consumption of added sugars is better for overall health. Consuming foods with natural sugars have more nutritional benefits than those with added sugars. Minimally processed sugars that are added to foods have some minor health benefits but ultimately are not much different than other forms of added sugar. In general, eating foods in moderation is a great way to go. Restriction often leads to over-consumption later on, so listen to your cravings and practice mindful eating to ensure total enjoyment of your food.

For a quick and easy snack that is lower in added sugar, try this yogurt parfait from Cooking Matters! If you want to decrease the added sugar content even more, consider only using plain yogurt and sweeten with more fruit.


  • ¼ cup plain yogurt
  • ¼ cup vanilla yogurt
  • ¼ cup fruit, chopped
  • Optional toppings: honey, cinnamon, granola/cereal
  1. Mix together two types of yogurt.
  2. Layer yogurt with fruit and other optional toppings. Enjoy!

By: Katie Jackson, RDN, LD

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