Q: I am trying to limit my intake of added sugar. So if I am counting sugar grams from the nutritional labels, should I bother counting the sugar grams from fresh fruit? For example, if a half cup of fresh blueberries have 8 grams of sugar, should I include that in my daily log since the sugar is naturally occurring fructose? I know I should avoid all added sugar, but is there an standard accepted amount of daily added sugar that is considered not harmful? Thank you.
A: Thank you for reaching out to The Sage: Nutritious Solutions with your question.
When discussing "sugar," which can be a hot topic for many folks, it is important to understand the role of glucose and the source of sugar.
Glucose is a type of energy that comes from food that is required for many normal organ functions in the body. Many tissues can use fat or protein as alternative sources of energy, but some systems (such as the brain, red blood cells, and eyes) require glucose. Extra glucose is stored in the liver and released as necessary to support regular functionality of these systems. There is indeed a difference between glucose and fructose, but both are considered "sugar" in foods since they both are carbohydrates. Though "sugar" is found in many processed foods, it is also the natural source of energy in whole foods such as fruits, starchy vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Fructose and glucose are not processed metabolically the exact same, but both provide energy to the body - the body will convert fructose to glucose in the absence of inadequate glucose in the body.
"Added Sugar" refers to non-naturally occurring sugars added to processed foods. For instance, some juices claim "no added sugars" but still contain a hearty amount of quickly absorbing carbohydrates. This is because fruit juice does not contain fiber (the importance of which will be discussed in a moment); some juice companies will even limit the amount of juice per container, replace it with water (as a money saving strategy), and add sugar to replace the sweetness. So, while all juices contain sugar, juice with natural sugar from the fruit is the better choice as opposed to one that has additional sugar beyond what is natural.
As a dietitian who works in a cancer center, I know that limiting added sugar intake is very important. Whole foods containing natural sugar (such as the sources mentioned above) contain protein and/or fiber, both of which delay the speed at which the sugar is absorbed. Delaying the speed of absorption is important so insulin has more time to deliver this energy directly to the cells and limit how much circulates through the blood. This can help prevent or ameliorate the risk of type 2 diabetes and other nutrition-related health risk factors. With that said (and to answer your question), we at The Sage recommend consuming a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein. We suggest not counting "sugar" (i.e. carbohydrate) from fruits the same as that found in processed foods. Not only do the antioxidant and phytonutrient potential outweight the limited amount of carbohydrate they offer, but the fiber content allows it to be absorbed in a way that benefits how
the body effectively uses this source of "sugar."
Hope this helps. Happy Eating!