Sugar Vs. Added Sugar

You may have been wondering, what is the difference between naturally occurring sugar and added sugar?  Naturally occurring sugar is sugar found in whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, and milk. Added sugar is sugar that is added to processed foods and drinks, such as breads, sauces, and sodas.


Nutritionally speaking, there is a vast and important difference between foods that have naturally occurring sugar and foods that have added sugar. Foods that contain naturally occurring sugar are often a good source of fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals. These foods cause a slow and steady rise in blood sugar, which is ideal for sustaining energy levels. This is because the fiber helps slow digestion and extends the release of energy.

Comparatively, foods high in added sugar often lack fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and are laden with excess calories and saturated (unhealthy) fat. Eating foods high in added sugar and fat and low in fiber will lead to an energy burst followed closely by an energy crash. This is because with high levels of added sugar, blood sugar levels sky rocket. Without fiber (or protein) to help slow the absorption of sugar into the blood stream, digestion progresses quickly and a “sugar crash” is imminent.

Sources of Added Sugar

The major sources of added sugars in American diets are regular soft drinks, candy, cakes, cookies, pies, and fruit drinks (e.g. fruit punch, juices with added sugar); dairy desserts and milk products (ice cream, sweetened yogurt and sweetened milk); and other grains (cinnamon toast and honey-nut waffles). It can be difficult to know how much sugar is added versus naturally occurring. One rule of thumb is that if the food/drink doesn’t have a nutrition label (e.g. whole fruit), then it doesn’t have any added sugar. You will find foods like these in the produce section of the grocery store. Plain milk, plain Greek yogurt, cheese, and meat are examples of foods that may have a nutrition label, but do not contain added sugar.

Thankfully, the new nutrition label guidelines will make it easier to differentiate between naturally occurring sugar and added sugar. Most food manufactures will have until 2018 to comply with the new regulations. In the meantime, stick to whole foods if you want to avoid added sugar.


Sugar is a simple carbohydrate that provides energy to fuel the body…. Why does it have such a bad reputation if it is an energy source for the body? The problem with sugar in today’s world is that most people are consuming way too much of it. The average American consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day. This far exceeds the 2015-2020 dietary Guidelines for Americans which recommends no more than 10% of daily calories come from added sugar. Notice the guidelines are for added sugar rather than naturally occurring sugar.

If you are interested in sweet alternatives to high added sugar foods, check out this Army H.E.A.L.T.H. blog.

The Facts on Pumpkin

With another Halloween in the books and Thanksgiving on the horizon, one thing is certain: It’s hard to ignore the pumpkin craze in America. Fueled by the success of the popular Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL) from Starbucks, which even has its own twitter account now, pumpkin flavored food and drinks are everywhere. As with any food trend, it’s important to be able to decipher between the healthy and not-so-healthy choices.

The Nutrition Facts

Many pumpkin flavored foods and drinks are loaded with added sugar and “pumpkin spice flavor” (e.g. pumpkin spice toaster pastries, pumpkin spice cereal, pumpkin spice coffee cream). Some may not contain any actual pumpkin at all. Nevertheless, REAL pumpkin is a good choice. This includes whole pumpkin that you buy and carve, as well as 100% pure canned pumpkin puree. Pure pumpkin is low in calories and saturated (unhealthy) fat and is an excellent source of Vitamin A and a good source of Vitamin C. Both Vitamin A and Vitamin C play a role in immune function, which plays an important role during cold and flu season.

To Indulge or not to Indulge?

If you’re a fan of seasonal dishes, try to include pumpkin in your everyday creations. Pumpkin itself doesn’t have a strong flavor (that’s what the pumpkin spice is for). It can easily be added to dishes, like chili, without anyone noticing. It will mostly add a creamy texture more than changing the flavor profile. Here are some other healthy pumpkin spice creations:

Pumpkin Spice Breakfast Smoothie

90-second Pumpkin Pie Breakfast Quinoa

Pumpkin Spice Latte Overnight Oats

Healthy No Bake Pumpkin Spice Latte Bites

Chicken with Pumpkin and Mushrooms

The Best Slow Cooker Pumpkin Soup

Pumpkin Hummus

When it comes to the more saturated fat and sugar-laden pumpkin flavored creations, everything in moderation! Think of these more as an occasional indulgence rather than an everyday staple of your diet. Look for food/drinks with less than 8 grams of added sugar. If you want to feel like you’re indulging without actually indulging, take it a step further and try to create healthier versions of your favorite store or restaurant bought pumpkin spice treats. For example, below we compare a homemade pumpkin spice latte with one from Starbucks.

Homemade PSL Ingredients:

• 8 ounces (1 cup) hot coffee

• 1 tablespoon pumpkin puree

• 2 teaspoons maple syrup

• 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin spice

• 2 ounces (1/4 cup) whole milk




You are sure to encounter pumpkin flavored ‘everything’ at the grocery store and at restaurants, so use this blog as a guide to make the healthiest choice! It is possible to enjoy pumpkin and pumpkin spice flavored food and drinks while still eating healthy.  

5 Healthy Recipe Substitutions

Eating a healthy diet doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice taste or texture. Enjoying your favorite foods while also making some healthy swaps is possible! Cutting down on calories, saturated fat, and sugar, are just a few ways to tweak your diet. The best part is that most people (e.g. picky kids or spouse) may not even notice the difference.

1) Fruit or vegetable puree for vegetable oil

Swapping fruit or vegetable puree (e.g. unsweetened applesauce, pumpkin puree, mashed bananas, or mashed avocado) for vegetable oil in baked goods is one of the easiest ways to cut calories and saturated fat. This substitution works well with both homemade goods, such as zucchini bread, and box goods, such as whole grain blueberry muffins. The texture remains light and fluffy and the flavor remains sweet!

2) Unsweetened applesauce for sugar

This is a great one for people with type II diabetes or anyone who is looking to reduce the amount of sugar in a baked goods recipe. The applesauce adds just enough sweetness without adding all the extra calories that sugar contains. Just be sure to reduce the amount of liquid by 1/4 cup for every cup of applesauce you substitute. This will help the recipe to maintain the proper consistency. The substitution works greats for oatmeal raisin cookies

3) Rolled oats for breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs usually pack a hefty amount of sodium and added fat. Replacing breadcrumbs with oatmeal not only reduces the sodium and fat, but the oatmeal is a good source of fiber, iron, manganese, B vitamins, selenium, and tryptophan. Make sure to use rolled oats if you want to maintain the crunchy texture of breadcrumbs. Quick oats are more processed and, therefore, cook more quickly……which may lead to a soggy dish. This substitute works great for recipes like meatloaf and casseroles.

4) Mashed avocado for mayo

This recipe swap is a beloved one for many people who have already discovered how delicious it is! If you do a side by side nutritional comparison of avocado vs. mayo, avocado is clearly the champ! Additionally, avocado complements almost any dish!



5) Pureed frozen fruit for ice cream

Whether you’re looking to reduce calories or sugar, or add in more nutrients…frozen fruit ice cream has the same creamy texture as ice cream, without all the “extras”. Simply puree your favorite fruit (e.g. bananas, strawberries, blueberries, or mango). Add your favorite milk (cow, coconut, almond, cashew, soy, etc.) for an even creamier texture. Adding a little pure vanilla extract will make for an even richer, more full flavor. But, rest assured, your frozen fruit “ice cream” will taste delightful even without anything added to it.  


News Roundup: Recommendations for Added Sugar Intake for Teens and Children

Image Source: The American Heart Association 

Last week the American Heart Association (AHA) announced their recommendations for daily added sugar intake for children and teens. The AHA recommends that children and teens between ages 2 and 18 should limit added sugar to less than 25 grams, or about 6 teaspoons, per day. Children younger than 2 years old should not consume any added sugar.

The AHA guidelines come on the heels of last year’s recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO) that adults and children should limit their daily added sugar intake to less than 10% of total calories.

This week’s news roundup brings to you a collection of blogs and articles related to the new AHA guidelines on added sugar intake.

Children should eat less than 25 grams of added sugars daily. American Heart Association. “Eating foods high in added sugars throughout childhood is linked to the development of risk factors for heart disease, such as an increased risk of obesity and elevated blood pressure in children and young adults… Overweight children who continue to take in more added sugars are more likely to be insulin resistant, a precursor to type 2 diabetes.”

New guidelines on added sugar for kids. CBS News. “Added sugars are often a trick for parents who want to convince their kids to eat foods they might otherwise refuse… it’s best to try to limit added sugar intake to foods that also come with other nutrients, such as milk and whole grains, rather than sugary sodas, for example, which have no nutritional value.”

American Heart Association Issues New Recommendations for Kids and Sugar. ABC News. “We’re talking about added sugar, not the naturally occurring sugars found in dairy products or fruit and really there is mounting evidence that sugar is the major culprit, probably more so than fat and salt, in our diets… We know it triggers addiction centers in the brain. It triggers inflammation in our body, the stimulation of fat around our organs”.

How Much Is Too Much? The growing concern over too much added sugar in our diets. Sugar “It's easy to exceed those limits. With as many as 11 teaspoons (46.2 grams) of added sugar in one 12 oz. soda, a single serving is close to double most people's daily sugar allowance. But sugar also is pervasive in our food supply. A leading brand of yogurt, for example, has 7 teaspoons (29 grams) of total sugars in a single serving, most of it added.”




Sweet Alternatives to High Sugar Foods


There’s no doubt that added sugar is taking its toll on the health of Americans. Growing scientific evidence shows that eating too much added sugar is linked to serious diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and liver disease. The key word here is added sugar. Naturally occurring sugar, such as sugar found in dairy and fruit, is not the problem. This is because these natural sources of sugar also include other important vitamins, minerals, and nutrients such as fiber and protein, which help the body more properly digest sugar and prevent a spike in blood sugar.  Constant and consistent blood sugar spikes can lead to diabetes.

One glaring problem is that most Americans are eating more added sugar than they realize, partially due to confusing labels not clearly stating that sugar is added. Case in point, there are at least 61 different names for sugar listed on food labels. Another reason for increased added sugar consumption is that sugar is being added to foods that you wouldn’t ordinarily think of as having added sugar. Ketchup, spaghetti sauce, salad dressing, BBQ sauce, and yogurt are just a few foods that more often than not, have abundant added sugar.

Just to be clear, we’re not saying that sugar is the ultimate enemy and should be completely eliminated from your diet. Although the Food and Drug Administration has yet to make an official recommendation for sugar intake, health experts recommend that for optimal health it is best to keep sugar consumption at ≤6 tsp. per day for women and ≤9 tsp. per day for men. That comes out to about 100 calories from sugar per day for women and 150 calories from sugar per day for men. Keep in mind that one 12 oz. can of soda has 132 calories from sugar, on average. So if you have just one soda per day, you are over (or close to being over) the recommended amount of daily sugar intake. (*see below)

Using our guide below, try to identify and reduce some of the added sugar from your diet.

Flavored Yogurt

Watch out for: any kind of flavored yogurt, especially the kinds with added sprinkles and “fruit”. These kinds of yogurt are usually high in sugar and lower in protein than plain yogurt.

Better: plain yogurt with fresh fruit.  You can also throw in some spices to make your own delicious combinations (i.e. apples and cinnamon). 

Best: plain Greek yogurt is an even healthier choice. It packs nearly twice as much protein and half as much sugar in the same amount of calories as regular yogurt.

Ice cream

Watch out for: frozen yogurt, sherbet, and sorbets which may appear to be a “healthier” choice than regular ice cream. Often, frozen yogurt has more added sugar than regular ice cream.  Manufactures will usually add sugar to replace the fat that was removed, so what you end up with is a product with less fat but more sugar! Always check the label.

Better: ice cream made with the fewest ingredients and the least amount of sugar.

Best: the home made kind. Freeze a banana, and then blend it with your favorite milk and fresh fruit or peanut butter. This banana based “ice cream” is full of fiber and protein and has no added sugar. You may be surprised at how creamy and tasty it really is.


Watch out for: all regular and diet soda. Diet sodas have been linked with increased risk of diabetes and higher weight.

Better & Best: water. If you want to add some natural flavor to your water, try adding in a squeeze of citrus from fresh lemon, lime, oranges, etc. For a refreshing summer time variation, try adding cucumber, mint, or other fruits such as strawberries.

Enhanced water

Watch out for: vitamin enhanced water. Most of these drinks are high in unnecessary sugar.  One popular brand has 31g of sugar per 20 oz. serving. That’s more sugar than is recommended to have in an entire day (25g).

Better & Best: simply drinking water and eating a healthy diet should be a sufficient source of vitamins and minerals. If you really want an extra boost of vitamins and minerals, have a piece of nutrient dense food like blueberries or kale.

Granola bars

Watch out for: most granola bars are loaded with sugar and fat. Check the ingredients label and you’ll likely see chocolate, high fructose corn syrup, and many other artificial ingredients.

Better: lookfor a granola bar that has a small ingredients list, at least 4 grams of fiber, no more than 8 grams of added sugar, and is around 150 calories per serving.

Best: make your own granola from whole oats, nuts, seeds, and non-sugar sweetened dried fruit.


Watch out for: fruit juices with added sugar and other ingredients. Theyare high carb (sugar) and low protein drinks, which will cause a spike in blood sugar and likely lead to headaches, mood swings and fatigue.

Better: 100% whole fruit juice. Even though these juices are still high in sugar, they are a better option than the juices with added sugar.

Best: eat the whole fruit or vegetable.  It’s that simple. When you eat the whole piece, you’re getting all the fiber and nutrients contained in the skin which will help your food digest more slowly and lead to a slow steady release of energy which won’t cause you to crash later on.


Watch out for: Many seemingly healthy cereal brands are sold in boxes that are covered with health claims and buzzwords from popular fads that boast things like “whole grain”, “organic”, “with Greek yogurt!”, and “added protein”.  But, if you read the label, you’re likely to see it’s all an illusion.  All that added protein? 1 gram. Many cereals have more sugar in one serving than is recommended for the entire day. What you probably won’t see is any decent amount of protein or fiber.

Better: aim for a cereal that has at least 4 grams of fiber and less than 8 grams of sugar per serving.  The first few ingredients should be whole grains, whole oats, etc. Sugar or any of its derivatives should not be! 

Best: Steel cut oatmeal. With no added ingredients, you’re sure to get a wholesome start to your day.

At the end of the day, try to focus on eating more unprocessed, whole foods, as these foods do not have added sugar. When you do purchase processed food, always read the label and familiarize yourself with all the different names for sugar 

 * since this blog was written, the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans have recommended that added sugar be no more than 10% of total daily calories for adults.