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Natural and Added Sugars: What's the Difference?

by Ms. Qula Madkin, MSU Extension Service

Sugar is always in the news, and it’s something most of us enjoy eating.

You’ve likely heard natural sugar is okay, while added sugars should be limited.

Sources of sugar in food can occur naturally (natural sugar), or they can be added to enhance the flavor and texture of a food or beverage (added sugar). Added sugars are the syrups and sugars added to food during food processing, during cooking, or after cooking.

Natural sugars are sugars that occur naturally in food. Some natural sugars are found in healthy foods, such as:

  • Dairy products contain a natural form of sugar called lactose. Dairy also contains protein, calcium, and vitamin D.

  • Fruits and vegetables may contain natural sugars, but they also provide dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

  • Grains also provide some naturally occurring sugars, as well as vitamins and minerals. Many whole grains are good sources of dietary fiber and may provide additional nutrients, too.

Why is knowing about added sugar important? Most Americans exceed the recommended daily amount of sugar in their diets, especially children. In addition, added sugars can contribute to weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease. You may be surprised to find that sugar is added to many processed foods you might not expect.

Did you know that sugar may be added to foods such as breads, cereals, energy bars, ketchup, salad dressings, and pasta sauces?

Here are a few tips to reduce added sugar in your family’s diet:

  • Check the nutrition facts label for the” added sugar” line. Look for products with 5% or less daily value (DV) of added sugar per serving. Tip: Look for products that say “no added sugar” on the packaging or nutrition facts label.

  • If you want to sweeten a meal or dish, cook with fresh or frozen fruit and vegetables, like sweet potatoes. Orange Sweet Potato Pork Chops are perfect if you like the combination of tangy, sweet, and savory!

  • Think 50-50, combine sweet foods and drinks with their unsweetened counterparts. One way I like to cut down the sugar in juice is to mix half juice and half water. By doing this, you will significantly cut the total added sugar. This also works well with cereal. Tip: Enhance the flavor of water with fruit and herbs to give it extra flavor without adding sugar. Try these 3 Flavored Water Recipes to Beat the Heat!

  • Make fruit is easily accessible. For example, keep a bowl of fresh fruit on the table or a bag of frozen fruit in the freezer.

Bottom line: Think balance. There are many ways to enhance the flavor of foods without adding sugar.

For more helpful tips like these, visit and join our Nutrition and Wellness Facebook group.

For more nutrition information, tips, and recipes, visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and U.S. Department of Agriculture My Plate websites.

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