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What’s the Difference Between Natural and Added Sugar?

We’ve all heard the recommendation to reduce the amount of added sugar we consume in order to promote good health, but what exactly is added sugar? And what is the difference between added sugar and naturally-occurring sugars?

Let’s keep it simple: naturally-occurring sugars are part of the carbohydrates in fruit, vegetables, and unflavored milk and yogurt. Added sugars are any type of sweetener added to foods during processing, such as adding sugar to cereal, flavored yogurt, pastries, or beverages like soda and energy drinks.

Added sugars go by a lot of different names that you’ll see on food ingredient lists, including brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, raw sugar, sucrose, trehalose, turbinado sugar, evaporated cane juice, and concentrated fruit juice. We also add sugars to our foods at home, such as putting a teaspoon of sugar in coffee, spreading jam or jelly on toast, pouring maple syrup on pancakes, or adding honey to a smoothie.

Why should we reduce the amount of added sugar we consume?

Not only do sugars increase calories which contribute to obesity, they also contain no essential vitamins or minerals that we need for good health. Consuming foods high in added sugars crowds out more nutrient-dense foods; think about the difference between eating an apple pastry that is high in added sugars and enjoying a fresh apple that contains vitamins, minerals, fiber… and no added sugar. Added sugar is associated with increasing obesity, higher blood pressure, more inflammation, and oxidative stress that all contribute to cardiovascular disease and higher levels of triglycerides. We may not think about added sugars contributing to heart disease, but they are a major source of concern. Consider this, when young children aren’t exposed to added sugars, they don’t develop a strong desire for very sweet food.

Tips to Help You Reduce Your Added Sugar Consumption:

  • It’s simple and easy to measure the amount of sugars you add to foods and beverages at home. That way, you can make sure that you’re staying under the recommended amount. Be sure to use measuring spoons for the best accuracy.
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has mandated changes to the food label, listing the amount of added sugars as a separate line under total sugars so that you’ll know exactly how much added sugar is in your favorite breakfast cereal, cookies, flavored yogurt, or ice cream.
  • For food labels that aren’t yet updated, look at the list of ingredients. Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight, so the first three ingredients are the most important. Look for sources of added sugar in these first three ingredients and choose foods that don’t have those sources at the tops of their lists.
  • Choose unsweetened, unflavored yogurt and mix in fresh fruit or microwaved frozen fruit with no added sugar for a naturally-sweet breakfast or snack. Use this same tip for oatmeal: choose unflavored oatmeal and add your own fruit. Cinnamon also brings out the natural sweetness in foods, so sprinkle foods like yogurt and oatmeal with cinnamon.
  • Choose unsweetened beverages such as plain seltzer water, unsweetened flavored waters, or herbal teas. Or make your own flavored waters using fruit: add a splash of 100% fruit juice to a glass of water, or stir lemon or lime slices into water.

DISCLAIMER: These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. The information is for informational purposes and is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure any illness. Consult a physician before taking any action.

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