Food With Natural Sugar


Food With Natural Sugar. The Most Sugar can help educate you about the hidden sugar lurking in your food. By reviewing the nutrition label and ingredients list of over 45,000 grocery and restaurant foods, you will discover ways to reduce sugar in your diet by eliminating unnecessary added sugar and by choosing healthier sugar alternatives or reduced-sugar foods.

Food With Natural Sugar

Sugar comes in a variety of forms, from naturally occurring sugars to sweeteners like cane sugar and corn syrup. These eight foods are some of the most concentrated sources of sugar. 

1. Cane Sugar

Cane sugar is the most popular form of sugar found in packaged foods, baked goods, and some soft drinks. Cane sugar is derived from the sugar cane plant and contains sucrose, which is broken down into glucose and fructose in the body, thereby evoking an insulin response.

2. Honey

Honey is often considered a healthier alternative to cane sugar because it is harvesting naturally from bee hives and has some nutritional value. Fructose, which is sweeter than sucrose or glucose, is the main sugar found in honey. Although honey may have some health benefits, it should still be enjoyed in moderation. 

3. Agave

Some people have begun replacing cane sugar with agave syrup because it is purportedly lower on the glycemic index and therefore less likely to spike insulin. However, this has not been well supported by the research. Like honey, agave contains a higher percentage of fructose than cane sugar. 

4. Corn Syrup

Corn syrup, especially high-fructose corn syrup, has been implicated in the rise of obesity in the United States. This may be because the fructose in corn syrup doesn’t signal satiety the way that an equal number of calories would when consumed in a different form.

5. Brown Rice Syrup

Brown rice syrup or malt syrup is derived by breaking down the starches in cooked rice. Very little research has been done on the health effects of brown rice syrup, but it is sometimes used as an alternative to corn syrup in baking and packaged foods. 

6. Dairy

Lactose is the naturally occurring form of sugar in dairy products. Many adults have a lactose intolerance, making dairy sugars difficult to digest. 

7. Fruit

All fruits contain some amount of naturally occurring sugars, or fructose. Some fruits, like bananas, are higher in sugar than others, like berries. Because the fructose in fruit is accompanied by fiber, it slows down your body’s insulin response, making it a healthier alternative to added sugars.

8. Coconut Sugar

Coconut sugar, or palm sugar, is a sweetener derived from the sap of the palm tree. It has recently gained in popularity as a believed healthier alternative to cane sugar, although there is not enough research yet to support this claim. Like all sugars, coconut sugar should be used in moderation. 

Why You Should Eat Less Sugar

Added sugars contribute additional calories to food without also contributing nutrients. As a result, people trying to lose weight may want to avoid foods high in sugar. People with conditions that affect blood sugar control, like diabetes, should also avoid sugary foods. 

Sugar has an effect on many body systems, including:

Weight Management

Adding sugar to foods and beverages increases their caloric density without also increasing their nutritional value. Sweetening foods also makes them easier to overeat. This may make it difficult to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. 


Added sugars in the diet are associated with a higher risk of developing type II diabetes. For adults with diabetes, consuming too much sugar can also interfere with blood sugar control. 

Oral Health

All forms of sugar allow bacteria to multiply and grow, promoting tooth decay. Consuming foods and beverages with either natural or added sugars increases the chances that you will develop cavities, especially if you don’t practice good oral hygiene. 

Natural versus refined sugar: What’s the difference?

If you’re trying to eat healthy, you probably don’t go a day without thinking about sugar. Avoiding sugar is hard because it’s in most foods.

Luckily, there’s no reason to cut sugar out completely. The key, says wellness dietitian Lindsey Wohlford, is to know the difference between natural and refined sugars – and recognize how they impact your body.

“Natural sugar is naturally occurring in food. Think of the sugar that’s in fruit or dairy or carbohydrates,” says Wohlford. “Refined sugar may be from a natural source, but it has been processed so only sugar remains, like granulated sugar from sugar cane, or corn syrup from corn. Foods like honey and agave sit somewhere in the middle of natural sugar and refined sugar.”

It can get tricky to understand the different types of sugar, so Wohlford recommends a traffic light system to help.

Natural sugars are safe to eat

Any sugar that is naturally occurring in a food gets the green light. That includes sugar in fruit and starchy vegetables, as well as whole or minimally processed carbohydrates like brown rice and whole grain pasta. Sugar in dairy products like milk and cheese is OK, too.

“We’re not as worried about this kind of sugar because these foods have other components in them that slow down how quickly sugar is digested,” says Wohlford. “This prevents that rapid blood sugar spike and drop that can lead to weight gain, insulin resistance and diabetes.”

Plant-based foods come with fiber, and dairy comes with protein. Dried fruit has natural sugars, unless it has sugar or other sweeteners added to it.

Eat these foods as part of a plant-based diet, not only to limit sugar, but to ensure you get all the different nutrients you need.

Fill two-thirds of your plate with whole grains, vegetables, fruits, beans and seeds, and fill the remaining one-third with lean protein like chicken, fish or tofu.

Added sugar should be eaten in moderation

Foods with added sugar get the yellow light. That includes the cane sugar in your yogurt, the honey or syrup in your granola bar, as well as the agave you might put in  a drink. Added sugar can also appear in foods like bread and pasta sauce.

“You want to minimize any kind of food with added sugar,” says Wohlford. “Pay attention to nutrition labels, and stay below the recommended level of added sugar per day.”

Women should have no more than 25 grams of sugar per day, and men should have no more than 37 grams.

“The yellow stoplight is for foods that may add up and put you over those limits,” says Wohlford.

Refined or processed sugar should be limited

Eat red light foods as little as you can because they contain a lot of processed sugar.

“Candy, cookies, cakes and other sugar-based foods can contain almost all or in some cases more than the recommended daily amount of added sugar,” says Wohlford.

One candy bar or piece of cake can contain around 30 grams of added sugar. Eating these foods regularly leads to weight gain and other problems.

“It means you are going to experience that sugar spike and if that happens consistently it can contribute to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other chronic conditions,” Wohlford says. “It’s important to think about what is going on in your body when you reach for these foods and keep them as a special treat, not for every day.”

Sodas and sweetened beverages get the red light, too, even if they use artificial sweeteners.

“Artificial sweeteners may have their place for people who are used to drinking sodas and want to transition away from them, but from a nutrition standpoint, I would also put these in the red category,” says Wohlford.

Focus on eating whole foods

The best way to ensure that you are eating sugar in a way that works for your body is to eat mostly whole foods.

Eat lean proteins with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, beans and seeds, which contain a mix of different nutrients that digest more slowly and keep blood glucose levels stable.

Packaged foods have often been stripped of these extra nutrients, and more sugar is added to encourage you to buy them.

“Refined sugar has been likened to drugs because it can release dopamine in your body and intensify cravings for more sugar,” says Wohlford. “Food manufacturers add more of it to foods for a reason – to increase appeal and make you want more.”

Natural vs. refined sugars: What’s the difference?

A woman shopping at the market with a basket full of fruits and vegetables
Sugar, in all forms, is a simple carbohydrate that the body converts into glucose and uses for energy. But the effect on the body and your overall health depends on the type of sugar you’re eating, either natural or refined.

Sugar, in all forms, is a simple carbohydrate that the body converts into glucose and uses for energy. But the effect on the body and your overall health depends on the type of sugar you’re eating, either natural or refined.

We wanted to explore the difference between these sugar types as a follow-up to our post about whether sugar drives the growth of cancer, which has received several comments. We again turned to one of our clinical oncology dietitians for expertise on the issue.

Understanding sugars

Natural sugars are found in fruit as fructose and in dairy products, such as milk and cheese, as lactose. Foods with natural sugar have an important role in the diet of cancer patients and anyone trying to prevent cancer because they provide essential nutrients that keep the body healthy and help prevent disease.

Learn more about how nutrition may help cancer patients manage side effects.
Call (844) 901-5151 or chat with a member of our team.

Refined sugar comes from sugar cane or sugar beets, which are processed to extract the sugar. It is typically found as sucrose, which is the combination of glucose and fructose. We use white and brown sugars to sweeten cakes and cookies, coffee, cereal and even fruit. Food manufacturers add chemically produced sugar, typically high-fructose corn syrup, to foods and beverages, including crackers, flavored yogurt, tomato sauce and salad dressing. Low-fat foods are the worst offenders, as manufacturers use sugar to add flavor.

Most of the processed foods we eat add calories and sugar with little nutritional value. In contrast, fruit and unsweetened milk have vitamins and minerals. Milk also has protein and fruit has fiber, both of which keep you feeling full longer.

Metabolism matters

How the body metabolizes the sugar in fruit and milk differs from how it metabolizes the refined sugar added to processed foods. The body breaks down refined sugar rapidly, causing insulin and blood sugar levels to skyrocket. Because refined sugar is digested quickly, you don’t feel full after you’re done eating, no matter how many calories you consumed. The fiber in fruit slows down metabolism, as fruit in the gut expands to make you feel full. 

But there’s a caveat. Once the sugar passes through the stomach and reaches the small intestine, it doesn’t matter if it came from an apple or a soft drink.

How much sugar is already in your blood will determine how the body uses the sugar,. If you already have a lot of sugar in your system, then what you just digested will form either fat or glycogen, the storage form of glucose that’s used for quick energy. It doesn’t matter if it’s junk food or fruit.

Cancer connection

We eat more refined sugar today than our parents and grandparents did three decades ago, which has resulted in increasing obesity rates among adults and children. Obesity has been associated with certain cancers, including breast cancer, prostate cancer, uterine cancer, colorectal cancer and pancreatic cancer. On the flip side, fruits high in antioxidants—blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries and apples—may reduce your cancer risk. The fiber in fruit, found mainly in its skin, suppresses your appetite to prevent overeating and weight gain.

Our clinical oncology dietitians recommend eating whole foods that are low in refined sugars. Whole foods refer to foods that are either unprocessed, such as fruit and vegetables, or minimally processed, such as whole grains.

The big picture is being a healthy weight and making healthy food choices. It’s about eating a diet with whole foods, lean proteins, complex carbohydrates like quinoa rather than white bread, and non-starchy vegetables. Focus on making good food choices every day on a consistent basis, not on the one piece of cake you had as a treat.

What’s the real deal on sugar?

Sugar gets a bad rap, regardless of what kind of sugar is in question. What we forget, Dr. Nancy P. Rahnama, a bariatric physician and physician nutrition specialist, tells SheKnows, is that all sugar is not “bad.” Report ad

“Carbohydrates are different combinations of sugar, and all carbohydrates result in insulin secretion, which is the main component of weight gain, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes,” Rahnama explains.

Glucose (which makes up sucrose, or table sugar, and high-fructose corn syrup) causes an immediate surge of insulin, while fructose (naturally occurring sugar) causes a more delayed release of insulin, she says.

This delayed insulin response happens because natural sugar is packaged with fiber, water, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that slow the release of that sugar in the bloodstream.

Therefore, when looking at the total carbohydrate content of food, Rahnama says to pay attention to soluble fiber since it will lessen the insulin effect by delaying the absorption of sugar.

“Good” sugar vs. “bad” sugar

Now that you know that natural, or “good,” sugars are in and added, or “bad,” sugars are out, the question is: What is considered a good (naturally occurring) and bad (added) sugar? 

Registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator, Deborah Malkoff-Cohen tells SheKnows that naturally occurring sugars are those sugars already found naturally in food(s) like milk (lactose) and fruit (fructose).Report ad

But added sugars — the ones we need to eat sparingly — can be found in table sugar, honey or high-fructose corn syrup. They are called “added” because they are added during processing, cooking or prepping the food. 

“Both will spike your blood sugar, but added sugar typically spikes it more,” Malkoff-Cohen explains. For example, eating an apple is not as detrimental to your health as drinking a can of soda. That’s because the sugar in the apple is coupled with fiber to help slow the sugar spike. 

However, Malkoff-Cohen says the direct hit from the soda that only takes seconds to drink and has zero fiber or any redeeming nutritional qualities, will completely blow your blood sugar out of the park.

Some foods, like flavored yogurt and chocolate milk, have both natural and added sugar, she notes. They have lactose naturally found in plain yogurt or milk and added sugar from the flavors added.

Sources of good sugar

When choosing the best sugars to include in your diet, make sure you focus on the natural sugars — fructose and lactose — and ditch the foods that contain sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup. 

Malkoff-Cohen suggests opting for these foods that contain natural sugars:

  • Dairy products like milk and unsweetened Greek yogurt contain lactose, which is made of glucose and galactose. But dairy products are also packed full of protein and a variety of vitamins and minerals that can help your body take more time to process the sugar.
  • Fruit contains fructose, but the fiber it’s packed with slows down the absorption of the sugar. Fruit also contains vitamins and minerals that make fruit another healthy choice to include in your diet. 
  • Certain vegetables and root vegetables — such as carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, potatoes, yams and parsnips — also contain natural sugars. But like fruit, they have a greater nutritional value than foods with added sugar. 

Separating the more natural or good sugars from the processed foods that are packed full of added sugar (namely high-fructose corn syrup and sucrose) can help you feel better and improve your overall health.

What to know about sugar in fruit

With so many fad diets and sources of nutrition advice, it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction — especially when it comes to sugar. However, it is worth noting that the body metabolizes fruit sugar differently than processed or added sugars.

All fruit contains some natural sugar. Very sweet fruitsTrusted Source, including mangoes and watermelons, have a relatively high sugar content. Generally, however, fruit tends to contain less sugar than sweetened foods.

Almost everyone, including people with diabetes, could benefit from eating more fruitTrusted Source. This is due to the combination of vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytochemicals, and water it provides.

Fruit contains two types of sugar: fructose and glucose. The proportions of each vary, but most fruits are about half glucose and half fructose. Glucose raises blood sugar, so the body must use insulin to metabolize it. Fructose does not raise blood sugar. Instead, the liver breaks it down.

In the sections below, we look at how fruit sugars compare with other sugars, the risks associated with sugar intake, and the benefits of eating fruit.

Fruit sugars vs. other sugars

All fruit contains sugar, but generally less that sweetened food.
All fruit contains sugar, but generally less than sweetened food.

The sugars that manufacturers most commonly use in foods include:

  • corn syrup, which is usually 100% glucose
  • fructose, which is sugar from fruit
  • galactose, which forms the milk sugar lactose when combined with glucose
  • high fructose corn syrup, which combines refined fructose and glucose but with a higher percentage of fructose
  • maltose, which is from two glucose units
  • sucrose, or white or table sugar, which is equal parts fructose and glucose

These sugars differ from fruit sugar because they undergo processing and manufacturers tend to overuse them as additives in food and other products. Our bodies also metabolize these sugars more quickly.

For example, sucrose can make coffee sweeter, and high fructose corn syrup is a common additive in many processed products, such as soda, fruit snacks and bars, and more.

Potential risks

Research consistently links refined and added fructoseTrusted Source, both of which are present in sugar and sweetened products, to a higher risk of health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

It is worth reiterating, however, that this research looked exclusively at fructose in its processed form as an additive in sweetened foods, not at fructose from whole fruits.

Although some fad and extreme diets aim to reduce or eliminate fruit from the diet, for most people, there is no evidence to suggest that fruit is harmful.

A 2014 studyTrusted Source comparing fructose with glucose reviewed 20 controlled feeding trials. Although pooled analyses suggested that added fructose could raise cholesterol, uric acid, and triglycerides, it did not have a more negative effect on lipid profile, markers for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, or insulin.

People with diabetes can also safely consume fruit. In many cases, sweet fruit can satisfy a craving for something else. Fruit has far less sugar than most sweet snacks, which can mean that a person consumes fewer calories and less sugar while also obtaining valuable nutrients.

Things to be aware of

Whole fruit is always a better choice than packaged or processed fruits.

For example, manufacturers tend to heavily sweeten and highly process fruit juices. Flavored juices that they market to children often contain large amounts of added sugars. These juices are not a substitute for whole fruit, and they may significantly increase a person’s sugar consumption.

People who consume canned fruits should check the label, as some canned fruits contain sweeteners or other flavoring agents that can greatly increase their sugar content.

A very high intake of fruit, as with any other food, may cause a person to consume too many calories, which may increase their risk of obesity. Overeating fruit, however, is difficult.

To exceed a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet by only eating fruit, a person would have to eat approximatelyTrusted Source 18 bananas, 15 apples, or 44 kiwifruits each day. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), however, most people eat fewer thanTrusted Source five servings of fruit per day.

Some of the only people who should avoid fruit are those with rare conditions that affect the way their bodies absorb or metabolize fructose. People with specific fruit allergies should also avoid some types of fruit.

A condition called fructose malabsorption, for instance, can cause fructose to ferment in the colon, causing stomach pain and diarrhea. Also, a rare genetic disorder called hereditary fructose intolerance interferes with the liver’s ability to metabolize fruit, which may require a person to adopt a diet without fructose.

Pregnant women in their second trimesterTrusted Source should try to avoid eating more than four servings of fruit per day, especially of fruits that are high on the glycemic index. They may also wish to avoid tropical fruits, as these may increase the risk of gestational diabetes.

Benefits of eating fruit

A woman in sports clothes eating an apple.
For most people, eating fruit can improve overall health.

The benefits of eating fruit far outweigh any purported or hypothetical risks. The benefits include:

  • Increased fiber intakeTrusted Source: Consuming fiber can help a person feel fuller for longer, reduce food cravings, nourish healthful gut bacteria, and support healthful weight loss. Consuming fiber may also help a person maintain more consistent blood glucose, which is especially important for people with diabetes.
  • Lower sugar consumption: People who replace sweet snacks with fruit may eat less sugar and fewer calories.
  • Better overall health: Fruit consumption is linked to a wide range of health benefits. Fruit and vegetable consumption, according to one 2017 analysis, reduces the overall risk of death. Consuming fruits and vegetables also lowers the risk of a range of health conditions, including heart disease and cancer.
  • Lower risk of obesity: People who consume fruitTrusted Source are less likely to develop obesity and the health issues associated with it.

Fruit consumption is so beneficial to health that a 2019 systematic reviewTrusted Source concluded that the current recommendations might actually underestimate the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables.


Nowadays, it can be difficult to separate nutritional facts from fiction, especially for people who are eager to lose weight, live longer, and feel better.

People should talk to a doctor or dietitian before making any dramatic changes to their diet. However, for most people, it is safe and recommended to eat several servings of whole fruit per day.

People with diabetes can also enjoy fruit regularly, though low glycemic and high fiber fruits are best.

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