7 Facts You Don’t Know About Added Sugar, Natural Sugars, and Sweeteners

How Sweet It Is

Restricting sugar is a popular way to ‘reset’ and embrace the praised ‘clean diet.’ It’s known that sugar offers absolutely no nutritive value and negatively affects our body and mind.  Every year in January and early summer, the diet industry promotes sugar fasts and diets that restrict sweets and treats, promising to help us kick our cravings and get control of our hunger.  Sounds like a pretty good plan, right?

There is no denying that we consume too much sugar.  In fact, research shows that we consume over 3 TIMES as much added sugar as is recommended – sometimes naively and other times intentionally, or at least, knowingly.

But, if you have ever seen a Pinterest recipe for “clean eating brownies” or “keto scones” or “sugar-free royal icing”, it gets pretty confusing trying to navigate sugar and sweeteners in our diet.  

So, let’s clear up some confusion about sugar.  

7 Facts About Sugar, Natural Sugar, and Sweeteners

1. Americans consume about 66 POUNDS of added sugar per year.

sugar intakeThat is not so sweet!  On average, adults consume 19 teaspoons of added sugar per day and research shows that children consume even more!  If you need a visual, go grab your sugar jar and a measuring teaspoon, and pour 19 scoops into a mason jar or glass. There you go – envision eating that every single day for a year.

No one needs added sugar. Added sugars do not contribute any valuable nutrition to your diet. And, while it might make food taste better, knocking down the quantity is highly recommended.  

Do you know how much you are consuming?  The World Health Organization recommends no more than 5% of your total calories to come from added sugar. If you are consuming about 2,000 calories per day, that means no more than 6 teaspoons or 25 grams of added sugar per day. Learn more about the recommendations for added sugars (adults and kids) here.

Bottom Line: Aim for less than 6 tsp or 25 grams of added sugar per day

2. There are more than 60 different names for added sugar.

Sugar is disguised in a lot of different types of food within the ingredient list. Dextrose, cane juice, brown rice syrup, disaccharides, sorghum, nectars, and MORE – sugar hides itself in ingredient lists. This doesn’t necessarily mean that brands are trying to hide sugar, but a variety of types of sugar are used in processing depending on the chemical structure, flavor, and purpose in the product.

Here are a few keys when you glance over the ingredient list:

  • The suffix “-ose” along with nectar, juice, and syrup are some common forms of sugar that are easy to spot.
  • The ingredients are listed from highest in weight to least meaning that the lower in the ingredient list, the better.

It is important to note that while nutrition labels list ‘sugar’ grams, that is a combination of both added and naturally occurring sugars. These types of sugars are not the same. In 2016 the FDA updated the food label to differentiate added and naturally occurring sugars on the food label and manufacturers have until January 2020 to comply. Expect to see new food labels on all of your favorite products this coming year. This new change will make it a lot easier for consumers to make educated decisions at the grocery store. The FDA has a picture of the updated nutrition label for you to view.

3. Coconut sugar has a lower glycemic index than table sugar.

sugarThis lovely caramel colored sugar has been getting a lot of publicity as a better alternative to table sugar and while it does boast a few benefits, using this type of sugar won’t make you any healthier. It’s still sugar and it still contributes excess calories.

Coconut sugar does boast a slightly lower glycemic index than table sugar. That means that when included as an alternative in a baked good or recipe, blood glucose may respond better.  It also has some trace minerals like zinc, calcium, potassium and even some antioxidants, but you would have to eat a lot to actually gain any benefit from these nutrients. Coconut sugar also contains a type of fiber called inulin. However, once again, it won’t help you meet daily fiber needs unless you decide to load up your oatmeal with a few cups of coconut sugar.

As a sweetener, coconut sugar may have a few benefits, but it also comes with a hefty price tag at the grocery store.

4. Honey and maple syrup have more sugar per serving than regular white sugar.

sugarComparing teaspoon to teaspoon, honey and maple syrup have more sugar in grams than white refined sugar. The reason is that they have a higher concentration of sugar and are sweeter. Therefore, replacing white sugar in a coffee beverage with honey isn’t necessarily any better for you, unless you are using less.  

Honey and maple syrup are popular sweeteners because they are considered ‘natural’. While these sweeteners may not be bleached or refined like table sugar, they are still a source of sugar that will raise your blood glucose and insulin.  They will contribute to excess calories in your diet.

Maple syrup may be one of your best options with the glycemic index of 54. The glycemic index of sugar is 65 and honey is 58.

5. You can make treats without any added sugar or artificial sweeteners.

Fruit is naturally sweet and is a great way to sweeten foods and baked goods without having to add a bit of sugar or sweetener. These moist blueberry muffins are sweetened with a few pureed dates and juicy blueberries. If cookies are your craving, these Easy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies blend bananas and raisins with typical oatmeal cookie ingredients for a chewy baked good. Did you know you can stew blueberries on the stovetop with a bit of water for flavorful preserves to top pancakes or almond butter toast? These Oatmeal Date Balls are the perfect afternoon sweet treat blending dates, oats, almond butter and a splash of vanilla.

It’s true that these treats are not as convenient as store-bought because you have to make them (although all of the recipes above are super easy), but that is the entire point. Preparing them yourself means you are more intentional about the sweets and treats you are consuming instead of allowing them to slip in unnoticed and unplanned.

Homemade treats mean that you control the quality of ingredients, the frequency you make them, and the level of sweetness and types of sweeteners, if any.  

6. Unlimited quantities of natural sugars aren’t beneficial for your body.

Naturally occurring sugars come in food packages. This is great because it means there are other nutrients in addition to the naturally occurring sugar that make this food health-promoting. Fruit and plain yogurt are two examples of foods that have naturally occurring sugars. Fruit also has fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.  Yogurt boasts calcium, vitamin D, protein, and fat. There are no specific recommendations to limit natural sugars, but an unlimited supply isn’t beneficial either.

Meals and snacks should always include a protein or healthy fat.  This slows the release of glucose (sugar) into your bloodstream so that you have a steady supply of energy and avoid blood glucose peaks and valleys. Eating a meal of fruit only will contribute to hunger, cravings and low energy not long after. God created fruit to be pleasantly sweet and enjoyed. Pair it with some nuts, nut butter or yogurt to create a satisfying and nourishing snack.

7. Sugar alcohols can cause GI upset.

sugarThe Keto diet and very low carb diets have reintroduced sugar alcohols back into recipes and as a common kitchen ingredient. These sugar derivatives are low in carbohydrate and very sweet. Because they are not fully digested, some individuals may experience gastrointestinal distress. There are a few factors that contribute to whether someone will experience negative symptoms including the quantity consumed, the type of sugar alcohol, and personal level of sensitivity. Individuals with IBS or those who tend to have a sensitive GI tract may not handle these well. Sugar alcohols (like xylitol) can be recognized in the ingredient list because they end with the suffix “-ol.”

So, what’s the play call?

A wise man is hungry for truth, while the mocker feeds on trash.— Proverbs 15:14 (TLB)

An intelligent person is always eager to take in more truth; fools feed on fast-food fads and fancies. — Proverbs 15:14 (MSG)

Is Holy Spirit convicting you to do something different? Remember conviction is not shame-based. Conviction is a strong but clear urging to move towards truth and grace. Shame says that because of your actions you are wrong or bad. Conviction carries the hope of grace.

Some people really do find a sugar fast to be a helpful reset, but it’s not the only way to experience transformation in your life.  Often, it’s the tiny steps, day after day, that yield sustainable, long term change/results. So, let’s get really practical and intentional:

  1. Take inventory and assess your personal intake. Get curious without guilt. Browse your pantry and fridge, check condiments, dressings, granola, cereal, oatmeal packets, bars, and yogurts. Look up your favorite coffee drink, that salad you always buy at your local cafe’ and the frozen yogurt flavor you choose when you take your kids out for a treat.
  2. Choose the top 2-3 foods or beverages that are contributing added sugars and write those down. Pray. Ask Holy Spirit for wisdom, guidance and the fruit of self-discipline.
  3. Swap higher sugar foods/ingredients for lower sugar options 1 at a time. Choose foods that will have the highest impact on your health and wellness. Remember it’s not about simply using a sugar substitute, but lowering your threshold for sugar and sweets.
  4. Decide to make your own ‘treats’ at home to control the quality of ingredients. Freeze extras in individual portions to keep it out of sight.


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