The Difference Between Added Sugar and Natural Sugar

by Anjali @ The Picky Eater on March 13, 2014


Sugar is an ingredient we all know that we should be eating sparingly — too much sugar is never good for you. But there are actually two very different types of “sugar”: naturally occurring sugars and added sugar. So what’s the difference between the two? And is one healthier for you than the other?

Added sugar includes any sugars or sweeteners that are added to foods during processing or preparation (such as putting sugar in your coffee, or eating flavored yogurt, or adding sugar to your cereal). You’ll see them on the ingredients list as: brown sugar, pure cane sugar, turbinado sugar, raw sugar, molasses, maple syrup, honey, corn syrup, brown rice syrup, agave, evaporated cane juice, and high fructose corn syrup – to name a few. Note: while sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, and molasses are less processed than the other sugars on this list and their raw/organic forms do have additional health benefits, in your body they act just like white granulated sugar would in terms of raising your blood sugar.

Naturally occurring sugars, on the other hand, are sugars that are part of a whole food: like the lactose in milk, or the fructose in fruit.

The kind of sugar that you want to limit in your diet are the added sugars — since these sugars provide unnecessary calories and no helpful nutrients. Natural sugars act differently in the body thanks to the protein, fiber, and water content accompanying them in a whole food, and are lower on the glycemic index than added sugars (which basically means that your body doesn’t absorb the sugar as fast, and your blood sugar doesn’t “spike” and then “crash” as a result). And therefore, natural sugars are better for you than added sugars: e.g. it’s much healthier to eat 1 cup of plain unsweetened yogurt vs. 1 chocolate bar.

Unless you’re a diabetic, you don’t need to worry too much about naturally occurring sugar in whole foods like fruit and plain dairy (yogurt, cheese, milk). While these naturally occurring sugars aren’t bad for you, with any food, you should still monitor portion size. So even though the protein in dairy, and the fiber + water in fruit helps your body to absorb the sugar slowly and steadily, going overboard and eating 10 fruits a day would be too much natural sugar in your diet. 2-3 servings of fruit per day is a good amount for most healthy adults; and for dairy, as long as you’re choosing plain, unsweetened dairy like regular milk, plain yogurt, cheese, etc. the lactose (natural sugar in dairy) is not bad for you. I generally don’t “limit” my intake of natural sugars – I’ll choose fruit for dessert or a snack and get my 2-3 servings a day that way.

Note: For added sugars, nutrition experts recommend limiting added sugar to 6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 teaspoons per day for men.

The great thing is, you can actually satisfy your sweet tooth with natural sugars and then you really don’t need to rely on added sugars for sweetness! Here are three delicious desserts, made with only natural sugars — you won’t believe they don’t have any actual added sugar in them 🙂

Cocoa Oat TrufflesLittle bites of chocolatey heaven, with only 4-6g of sugar and less than 60 calories per truffle!


Oatmeal Raisin CookiesOnly 64 calories and 4.4g of sugar in these delicious, chewy, guilt-free cookies!


Mini Banana Bundt Cakes (a recipe I created for Women’s Health Magazine): sweetened with pureed raisins instead of sugar!

Mini Banana Bundt CakesEnjoy!

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Jen Clark March 14, 2014 at 9:04 am

I love these posts you are doing Anjali! They are so informative! Thanks!!


Anjali @ The Picky Eater March 14, 2014 at 12:48 pm

Oh thanks Jen!! I’m so glad you’re finding these posts helpful! New recipes will be coming soon too — I’m getting back into the kitchen this week! 🙂


Kelly - LEFT SIDE OF THE TABLE March 15, 2014 at 6:35 am

What a wonderful explanation, Anjali! Makes me feel less guilty about eating say plain strawberries for dessert instead of a snickers bar. Some people say to really watch your fruit intake because of sugar, but I just believe in moderation of everything..which includes fruit. Too much of anything is bad. But to not eat fruit because of sugar, just seems silly. Thanks for sharing. Enjoy your Saturday!


Anjali @ The Picky Eater March 16, 2014 at 2:35 pm

No problem! And yes absolutely — you shouldn’t feel guilty about eating fresh fruit for dessert at all — that’s the perfect end to a meal! And fruits have a ton of other nutrients besides sugar (vs. a Snickers bar which doesn’t) – so there are other benefits to eating fruit which outweighs the slight downside from the natural sugar.


Mattison Huggins March 17, 2014 at 12:20 pm

I followed on pintrest and can’t wait to see all of your different recipes!


Anjali @ The Picky Eater March 17, 2014 at 2:23 pm

Thanks Mattison! Let me know how my recipes end up turning out for you!


Penny Goheen May 22, 2014 at 4:35 pm

I have had gastric bypass, and must limit my sugar to 15 grams a day. But sometimes I just want something sweet. So I’m going to try making your Mini Apple pies with seiva then adding a thin sugar free (homemade) vanilla and cinnamon warm pudding. Do u know how I should figure out how much seiva to use instead of sugar. As I make mine with no recipe, the way my mom made it.


Anjali @ The Picky Eater May 24, 2014 at 10:01 pm

Hi Penny! I think when you use Stevia for baking there are different amounts to use based on the amount of sugar you’re replacing. Here is a pretty good guide to what the sugar to Stevia ratios are when baking: Hope that helps!


Alison July 22, 2014 at 10:48 am

I really needed this article! All of us at RKF medical made a pact to start eating healthier and for me that is tough, I’m a sugar addict! Thanks for the information!


Anjali @ The Picky Eater August 8, 2014 at 11:50 am

Oh great!! I’m so glad this article was helpful for you Alison. I hope things are going well with your pact to eat healthier! Stay well! 🙂


Erin June 19, 2015 at 10:45 am

What is the “best” sweetener to add to coffee or tea? I just can’t quite handle it black, but want to try and lessen the amount of sweetener I put in. What do you recommend?


Anjali @ The Picky Eater June 21, 2015 at 2:02 pm

Hi Erin! If you need to add sweetness to your coffee or tea, just use regular sugar — either raw brown sugar, raw honey, or just organic granulated sugar are all great options. Try to stick to 1 tsp of sugar per cup (or less) if you can! Let me know if you have any other questions!


Erib June 23, 2015 at 9:05 am

Thank you for your help! We have been trying this organic blue agave. What are your thoughts on that? I know there is a lot of stuff out there on agave vs. honey. It’s hard to break it down and understand the right way.


Anjali @ The Picky Eater June 25, 2015 at 1:37 pm

Hi Erib! Honestly between agave and honey — it just depends on which one you like better. Both are basically just added sugar – so both should be used sparingly. Hope that helps!


Aditya August 3, 2015 at 12:09 pm

Hi ! Landed up on your blog searching about added sugar and its effects. Nice Blog and indeed good recipes. Cant help but follow your blog. Keep posting !



Anjali @ The Picky Eater August 4, 2015 at 3:00 pm

Thanks Aditya! So glad you found this post helpful!


Johnathan May 5, 2016 at 12:06 am

Hello, I’m not sure if you can help me with this or not but let’s see. I’m confused with things that are organic. For instance, I love jelly so I found this organic jelly but it has 8 grams of sugar. My question is, if it’s organic does that mean the 8 grams of sugar that’s in the jelly natural sugar or is it added sugar?


Anjali @ The Picky Eater May 6, 2016 at 11:26 am

Hi Johnathan! This is a great question! Just because a food product is organic, that has nothing to do with whether the sugar in the product is added or natural sugar. Natural sugar only includes sugar that is part of a whole food: like the lactose in milk, or the fructose in fruit. The organic jelly that you found likely has sugar added to it (e.g. sugar or some form of sugar is listed on the ingredients list). You’ll see it on the ingredients list as: fruit juice, brown sugar, pure cane sugar, turbinado sugar, raw sugar, molasses, maple syrup, honey, corn syrup, brown rice syrup, agave, evaporated cane juice, and high fructose corn syrup – to name a few. The only way any jam or jelly won’t include added sugar is if there is just one ingredient on the list: “whole fruit”. So essentially, a product can be non-organic and not have any added sugar in it (e.g. non-organic milk), or a product can be organic and have added sugar (e.g. organic cookies). Hope that helps! I know it’s confusing so don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any other questions!


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