Is this Added Sugar or Natural Sugar??



Updated Oct 2023

You may have heard that the World Health Organization (WHO) released its new Sugar Guidelines which recommend keeping Added Sugar to less than 5% of our total calories or 6 teaspoons of Added Sugar per day. To give you an idea of what 5% of your total calories looks like, check out this chart to see how many grams of Added Sugar this means for you each day.

If you have already taken the leap to slash sugar out of your eating plan, you have likely experienced the shock and awe of how much sugar is in your favorite foods. If you’re just starting out on your sugar reduction journey, you may find this post about hidden sugar helpful. When I work with clients to reduce their sugar intake a few questions naturally arise. Let’s look at these questions closely.

Sugar is everywhere! Learn how to tell the difference between added and natural sugar. #saslife Click To Tweet

How do I tell how much added sugar is in my favorite packaged foods?

Check the Nutrition Facts label.

You can find the Added Sugar content in the line under Total Carbohydrate that says Includes Xg Added Sugars. While perusing the label, be sure to also check the serving size and number of servings per container. The grams of sugar listed are for one serving and sometimes the servings per package may be more than one.

Scan the Ingredient List for sources of Added Sugar.

Did you know there are over 56 different names for sugar? Become familiar with this list so you can easily recognize when sugar has been added to your food.

Names of Sugar_colored

Sometimes you might see 5 or 6 different Added Sugars listed on an Ingredient List like this one below. By law, ingredients in the Ingredient List are listed in descending order of prevalence by weight. So if sugar is in the top 3 ingredients, that's a big clue that the sugar content will be on the higher side.

What About Natural Sugar?

At this point, you may be wondering about natural sugar and if you need to count that into your daily added sugar allotment. The quick answer is no, but it is important to understand the difference between these types of sugars and to consume both in appropriate amounts for you.

  • Added Sugars are sugars from external sources that are added to a food or recipe. They do not occur naturally in the food so they are counted in your daily Added Sugar allotment.
  • Natural Sugars are sugars that occur naturally in a food. Natural Sugars occurring naturally in a food are not counted in your daily Added Sugar allotment.

There are basically 2 types of sugar that naturally occur within a food: Lactose (milk sugar) and Fructose (fruit sugar).


Use the table below as a guide to how many grams of Natural Sugar are found in milk/fruit. While there isn't a set daily Natural Sugar allotment, we typically recommended limiting whole fruit to no more than 2 servings per day to help keep these sugars in check.



Natural Sugars That DO Count as Added Sugar

  • Crystalline Fructose granules can now be purchased in the supermarket and are used to sweeten some “healthier” packaged foods in health food stores. If fructose is listed in the Ingredient List, then it is not naturally occurring IN the food so it is an Added Sugar.
  • Fruit juice is the natural sugar extracted from fruit. When you eat a piece of whole fruit, there is only a small amount of juice (fructose) in the piece of fruit. But, once you extract the juice from multiple pieces of fruit to make one glass of juice you end of up with a glass of “sugar”. So, fruit juice is considered an Added Sugar (whether you’re drinking it or using it in a recipe.) One 4 ounce glass of juice counts as 15 grams of Added Sugar. Yikes!
  • Natural sugars like honey, maple syrup, molasses and agave nectar are naturally occurring but they are simple sugars added to foods so they count as Added Sugar. One teaspoon of either contains about 4 grams of Added Sugar.

Tips for Steering Clear of Added Sugar

Follow these tips to reduce added sugars in your foods so you can spend your daily Added Sugar allotment the way that’s the most fun for you.

1) Eat mostly fresh, whole foods. Whole foods from nature do not contain Added Sugar.


2) Eliminate fruit juices, even fresh squeezed, and opt for a whole piece of fruit instead.


3) Buy unsweetened Greek yogurt and cereals. Then add fresh fruit for sweetness.

unsweetened yogurt_cereals


A Quick and Easy, No Added Sugar Summer Menu

This super easy crock pot chicken recipe uses fresh turmeric and ginger which provide mild, exciting flavors and powerful phytonutrients. If using these unique spices in their fresh form is currently out of your comfort zone, substitute two teaspoons of the dried version of each until you get your feet wet with fresh spices. Once you see how easy it is to use fresh turmeric and ginger, you may never go back to dried.

Slow Cooker Coconut Turmeric Chicken (recipe below)
Cucumber and Tomato Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette
Sweet Potatoes


Slow Cooker Coconut Turmeric Chicken

Adapted from:
Makes 8 servings



1 whole chicken (preferably free range)
½ cup lite coconut milk (I use Trader Joe’s Light Coconut Milk in the can)
2–4 inch knob of fresh turmeric, grated (I use a 4”piece)
2–4 inch knob of fresh ginger, grated (I use a 4”piece)
3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
4 cups fresh baby spinach – torn into small to medium pieces
sea salt and pepper
Scallions to garnish


1. Peel turmeric and ginger with vegetable peeler and grate with a fine grater. Mince garlic.


2. In the bottom of your slow cooker, mix together the coconut milk, garlic, ginger and turmeric. (You can use 1/3 cup more coconut milk if you want it creamier.)
3. Season the chicken liberally with sea salt and pepper, making sure to season inside the cavity.
4. Place the bird in the slow cooker and spoon some of the mixture over the top of the chicken.


5. Put the lid on and let it cook on HIGH for 4 hours or LOW for 6-8 hours.
6. When the chicken is cooked, remove it from the slow cooker.


7. Pull the meat off the bone and shred it. Reserve the bones for stock if you like. Discard the skin.
8. Add the baby spinach to the hot liquid in the slow cooker and toss in the liquid until the spinach wilts (about 1 minute).


9. Add the chicken meat back to the slow cooker and stir together with the spinach and liquid. Taste and adjust for seasoning.
10. Serve with a baked sweet potato, cucumber salad and summer berries.



About Author

Cathy Greer Mazanec, MPH, RDN, LDN

Cathy is the Senior Manager of Nutrition and Healthy Living Programs at SAS Institute Inc in Cary, NC. She is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, functional medicine nutritionist, blogger and food photographer. Cathy's specialties include integrative and functional nutrition, gut health, food allergies and intolerances and culinary nutrition. She is also a Certified Biofeedback instructor. An avid lover of the outdoors, Cathy spends her free time biking, golfing, kayaking, paddleboarding, sitting under the stars and spending time with her grandson. Follow @CmazanecRD on Twitter.

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