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What You Need To Know About Natural & Added Sugars

By PearlPoint Nutrition Services July 26, 2012Pearls of Wisdom Blog

As a Registered Dietitian (RD) that works with adults impacted by cancer, it is common for me to get questions about sugar, particularly those about simple sugars, natural sugars and added sugars. Today’s blog post will help provide some answers to those recurring questions regarding sugar for cancer survivors and caregivers.

First and foremost, there are two basic categories of sugars found naturally in food: simple sugars and complex carbohydrates (starches and fibers).

Simple Sugars

Simple sugars are made of single carbohydrate units (monosaccharides) or two carbohydrate units (disaccharides) linked together. Examples of simple sugars include glucose, fructose (fruit sugar), sucrose (table sugar), and lactose (milk sugar). These sugars are found naturally occurring in vegetables, fruits, 100% fruit juices, and some dairy products. Foods that naturally contain simple sugars can offer beneficial vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals and dietary fiber.

Simple sugars may also be refined from whole foods and added during processing to numerous items like cereals, breads, yogurts, flavored milk, desserts, sports drinks, teas and soda just to name a few. Table sugar, raw sugar, brown sugar, honey, agave nectar, cane syrup, and high fructose corn syrup are all examples of simple sugars that do not contain nutritional value, they just provide calories. It is best to avoid excessive amounts of added simple sugars. (Please see a past blog post, “Sugar How Sweet It Is” to find out why).

It is not a good idea to avoid simple sugars that are found naturally in whole foods like vegetables, fresh, unsweetened frozen and dried fruit, 100% fruit juice, milk, and plain yogurt. Avoiding these foods results in avoiding many beneficial nutrients! Look for items that have “No sugar added” listed on the label and contain limited added sugars in the ingredients list, choosing foods that are lower in added sugars more often.

*Aim to avoid chemically-based artificial sweeteners like sucralose, acesulfame potassium, and aspartame. Stevia is a natural plant-based sweetener that is an acceptable alternative to sugar and artificial sweeteners.

Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates mainly consist of starches and dietary fibers found in plant foods that include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, and peas. Starches are made of long chains of glucose molecules. When starches are digested they are broken down into smaller sugar molecules that are used by the body for energy. Dietary fiber is mostly made of cellulose, a non-digestible sugar. Bacteria in your body’s digestive system can break down dietary fiber, but it does not get absorbed by the body. Dietary fiber promotes the health of your digestive tract by adding bulk, promoting regularity and helping to keep the digestive system running smoothly. Like simple sugars, it is not a good idea to avoid starchy foods listed above as they can also contain beneficial vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals and dietary fiber.

Bottom Line

Avoiding all types of sugars is not recommended. Your body benefits from the array of macronutrients, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and dietary fiber found in foods that naturally contain sugar like vegetables, fruits, some dairy products, and whole grains. Be mindful of choosing products that are lower in added sugars to get the greatest nutritional benefit.

Blog Author: Katherine T. Fowler, MS, RDN, CEDRD, LDN
PearlPoint Cancer Support Staff

Author PearlPoint Cancer Support Staff

PearlPoint Nutrition Services is a program of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS).

More posts by PearlPoint Cancer Support Staff

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