Sugar has received a lot of bad press in recent years, and for good reasons. Researchers have found it is linked to weight gain, belly fat, and the onset of chronic diseases like type two diabetes and insulin resistance. 

In an effort to reduce the mass over-consumption of sugar, the FDA recently issued updated standards for ingredients labels that help consumers determine how much sugar (and more importantly, what type of sugar) are in the products they’re consuming. 

According to bariatric medicine physician Dr. Jan McBarron, the distinction is important because not all sugars are created equal. While natural sugars such as the ones occurring in whole fruit, vegetables, and some dairy products are perfectly healthy, it is the added sugars which are responsible for severe health declines and tooth decay. 

Added sugar vs. natural sugar

The difference between added sugar and natural sugar is straightforward: natural sugar consists of any sugar that is naturally present in a food and has not been added from another source. Examples of foods containing natural sugars include foods such as apples, berries, and vegetables. 

Added sugars, on the other hand, are added to a food to enhance its flavor. Most people know that foods like candy and soft drinks contain high levels of added sugar, Dr. Jan McBarron notes that fewer realize sugar it is also added to more unlikely products, including bread, canned spaghetti sauces, ketchup, and athletic drinks. 

How much sugar can you have per day?

When it comes to how much sugar to consume per day, many would be shocked to find out that they’re already far beyond the healthy limit. According to the American Heart Association, women should consume no more than 25g of sugar per day and men should not exceed 36g. 

Other sources recommend keeping sugar intake to no less than 10% of your daily total energy intake in order to reduce the risks of obesity and tooth decay. Generally, this ends up equating to fewer than six teaspoons of sugar per day, given that a teaspoon equals approximately 6 grams. For comparison, the standard can of Coke contains 40 grams—more than the entire recommended amount.

Exceptions for natural sugar

Most dietary experts agree that sugars occurring naturally, especially those in whole fruit, do not count towards suggested sugar intake limits. According to Jan McBarron, this is because the sugars occurring naturally in produce do not have the same risk for adverse health effects as the unnatural sugars occurring in candies and other synthetic products. Unlike added sugars, natural sugars (like the ones found in whole fruit) contain high amounts of fiber, which slow the body’s absorption of sugar. In turn, these sugars do not negatively impact your body’s insulin production, while the added sugars do. 

All things considered, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should binge on excessive amounts of fruit, or that it would be healthy for you to consume bushels of apples  per day. Even though sugars absorbed through whole fruits are not associated with the same health risks as added sugars, they should be consumed in moderation. “It’s not that fruit is bad for you by any means,” notes Dr. Jan McBarron, “It’s just that if you’re consuming excessive amounts of fruit, you’re inevitably limiting the variety of your diet.” She points out that healthy diets will incorporate a wide range of foods rather than allowing for the over-consumption of a single food group.

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