Are natural sugars any better than other sugars?

Are natural sugars any better than other sugars?

You likely got the memo: The average American consumes way too much sugar. In fact, we down about 355 calories, or a whopping 22 teaspoons, of added sugars each day. Sugar-sweetened beverages (soda, fruit drinks, sweetened teas and energy drinks) are the primary source of these added sugars, and they’re apparently making us fat and unhealthy.

But that’s old news. The news is that the American Heart Association has trimmed sugar intake limits, and some people are sour on the new recommendations. According to the latest AHA guidelines, most women should eat no more than 100 calories of added sugars per day, or 6 teaspoons (25 grams), which is less than what you'd find in a can of soda. Men should keep added sugars to just 150 calories, or 9 teaspoons (37 grams).

The justification for the limits: The AHA points to added sugars as risk factors for cardiovascular disease and as contributors to the overconsumption of calories. It’s not so much the actual limits that have ruffled feathers as the "outing" of certain types of sugars as enemies.

According to the AHA guidelines, which were published as a scientific statement in the AHA journal Circulation, the form of sugar in your diet makes a difference. For example, soft drinks are more likely to contribute to nutrient shortfalls than milk sugars and presweetened cereals. In other words, when you drink soda, you fill up on empty calories.

But certain people (some funded by the food industry) are balking at the delineation. Some ask whether the body knows the difference between natural (fruits, fruit juice, vegetables, milk, etc.) and added sugars (sugar, honey, high fructose corn syrup, etc.), and they question whether calories are calories when it comes to maintaining a heart-healthy weight.

It seems to me that clarifying these questions might be useful for natural products retailers, many of which stock products containing natural or unrefined sugars, even if they’re added, in place of products containing refined sugars. And making distinctions might be helpful as we enter the holiday sweet season, starting with Halloween.

How do you explain the difference to customers? Is it that 100-percent fruit juice has redeeming qualities—vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients—that refined sugars don’t offer? And what about honey, which is both natural and usually added to products and yet contains antioxidants that refined sugar doesn’t? Then, there's the blood sugar question. What are your favorite natural sugars and why?

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