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Ask Tufts Experts April 2012 Issue

Q: I understand the importance of limiting added sugars, as the latest Dietary Guidelines advise. But what about naturally occurring sugars in fruits and other foods?

Answer :  Molly Ubele, a master’s candidate at the Friedman School, replies: “The 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend that Americans ‘reduce the intake of calories from solid fats and added sugars.’ There are many different types of sugar added in the processing of food and beverages to provide flavor, viscosity, texture, color or other desired features of the product. Naturally occurring sugars are found in milk products, fruit and some vegetables. The Nutrition Facts label does not differentiate between added or naturally occurring sugars in food, and neither do our bodies. Once a sugar is absorbed, the body sees and reacts to all types of sugar as essentially the same.

“Since we don’t eat sugar by itself, however, we have to compare the foods with naturally occurring sugars to foods containing added sugars. Foods that naturally contain sugar also contain other beneficial nutrients, such as the protein and calcium in milk or the vitamins and antioxidants in fruit. It would not make sense to limit these foods in the diet. On the other hand, the major sources of added sugars are sugar-sweetened beverages and fruit drinks, desserts and candy, none of which is a good source of other nutrients. These sugars account for 16% of total calories in the average American diet. Reducing intake of foods with added sugars removes extra calories for people who do not need them, without taking away any important nutrients.”

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