Nutrition research is always evolving: one day calories are the enemy, the next day it’s fat. Currently, enemy no. 1 is sugar. However, we must understand that not all sugars are the same and should not completely avoid it.
Sugar is a carbohydrate. Carbohydrates are essential nutrients: they provide energy for the body’s cells. If you are an athlete or someone who maintains an active lifestyle, carbohydrates should be one of your best friends (along with protein). However, you have the options to fuel your body with natural or added sugars.
Not only is added sugar used to provide sweetness in foods, but also provide structure and texture. The most pressing concern about added sugar is the amount added to foods. In large amounts, they add excess calories which can lead to weight gain and its associated complications such as heart disease and diabetes.
Natural sugar is sugar that occurs naturally in foods such as vegetables, dairy, and especially in fruits. When eating fruits, you not only receive the energy from the natural sugars, but also other beneficial nutrients like antioxidants, phytochemicals, and fiber.
The fiber in many fruits slows the digestion of the natural sugars, thereby providing a steady flow of energy during the day, making them a low-glycemic food. On the other hand, added sugar provides a fleeting burst of energy to be used immediately, making foods with added sugar high-glycemic. The combination of natural sugar and fiber prevents sugar spikes and provides balanced glucose levels.
Fortunately, the FDA has revised the nutrition label to include the disclosure of added sugar in foods, measured in grams and percent daily value. Food manufactures are required to disclose this information by July 2018. Manufacturers will be further encouraged to keep reformulating their foods so we can all enjoy sweet treats while having a balanced sugar intake.
Julio Mario Flores, RDN: Nut butter lover and hiking enthusiast, Julio is the Associate Brand Manager and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for the Natural Delights team. He works on a variety of projects to help bring delicious and nutritious food to many people.