The Truth About Natural Sugars


Sugar is one topic that causes a lot of confusion. We know that eating too much isn't good for us but what about the sugars naturally present in foods like fruit? If we want to stay healthy and maintain our ideal weight, can natural sugars form part of our diet?

First, let's get one thing straight. The body cannot tell the difference between sugar that's been consumed in a piece of cake and sugar that you've eaten in a banana. As far as the body is concerned, sugar is sugar regardless of where it comes from. 

However, nutritionally speaking, you can't compare cake and a banana. Cakes, along with other foods containing a lot of added sugar, are often highly processed, contain other undesirable ingredients and have very little nutritional value. On the other hand, a banana provides essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fibre.

The answer to whether natural sugars can form part of a healthy diet is not a simple yes or no. For a start, it depends on the individual. If I am working with clients with type two diabetes, I will advice them to avoid sugars in whatever form they present. If I'm supporting a client with weight loss and we decide that a ketogenic (very low carbohydrate) diet is the best approach for them, then I will recommend avoiding all sources of sugar in the short term, including natural ones. 

On the other hand, for most healthy people, a moderate amount of natural sugars can form part of a healthy diet. The main source of natural sugar in our diet is fruit. As a general rule, I advise eating up to two portions of fruit per day, with meals. Eating natural sugars alongside sources of protein will help slow their breakdown into simple sugars, minimising their impact on your blood sugar levels. 

Here are a few tips to help you avoid consuming excess natural sugars:

  • Beware of fruit juices and dried fruits which are particularly high in sugar and should only be consumed occasionally as a treat. 

  • Avoid syrups such as agave, brown rice syrup and maple syrup. Though these are often marketed as natural sugars, there's really very little difference between them and Golden Syrup, nutritionally speaking. 

  • Avoid 'natural' snack bars that are made from predominantly dried fruit. 

  • Just because a label states 'no added sugar' does not mean it doesn't contain a lot of sugar! There's absolutely no need to add sugar into a product that contains a high amount of naturally occurring sugars.