Okay, I have a question regarding "no sugar added" and "sugar free". Here is what I understand: "No sugar added" represents natural sugars from the fruits, and "Sugar Free" means that sweetness is provided by a non sugar supplement such as Splenda...yes or no? Is natural sugar to be avoided? How do I tell if the sugar content in a juice drink is all natural or sugar assisted? Thanks so much.

I think it is great that you are digging in and reading labels! Manufacturers definitely want to make their products appear “healthy” but sometimes the wording can get a little confusing. Foods that are “sugar free” do not contain processed or natural sugars. In sugar free products, a sugar substitute is usually added as a sweetener. Oftentimes, “sugar-free” products will use an artificial sweetener, such as sucralose (Splenda®) or aspartame (NutraSweet®). These are non-caloric sweeteners that will not affect blood sugar levels. Some “sugar free” products may also use a sugar alcohol (such as xylitol, mannitol, and sorbitol) or a natural alternative sweetener, such as stevia. The sugar alcohols will still impact blood sugar levels, but because they are so slow to digest people don’t see as significant of a spike in their blood sugar levels.

“No added sugar” just means that no additional sugar is added during processing, but the product may still contain a naturally occurring sugar (e.g., milk sugar—lactose, or fruit sugar—fructose). I always urge my patients to check out the entire label on a product before being swayed by the “no added sugar” or other seemingly healthy attributes.

I once had a patient tell me that he consumed three pieces of pie for dessert “because it did not contain any added sugar”. But, that pie still contained starch, butter, and fruit…all of which have calories and can lead to weight gain. Also keep in mind that even though a product says “sugar free”, it may contain up to 0.5 grams of sugar per serving. So, if you are consuming many servings of a sugar free product you may be consuming a lot more sugar and calories than you need.

I would begin by checking the labels on various products and pay close attention to the ingredients section. You can tell if a sugar in juice is “added” if you see terms like: corn syrup, sugar/sucrose, honey, high fructose corn syrup etc. In contrast, if the juice says “100% fruit juice” on the label, you know that it is all natural! And you don’t need to avoid natural sugar. But, like anything else, consume natural sugars in moderation along with a diet filled with vegetables, whole grain fiber, and lean protein.

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