Between the headlines screaming “SUGAR IS TOXIC!” and the many detoxes and cleanses and diets that eliminate fruit (whether all forms or a certain variety, like tropical fruits), it’s no wonder you’re mixed up when it comes to this naturally-sweet food. The truth is, you should be keeping an eye on sugars, but not all sugars are created equal. Here’s what you need to know.

Sugar Confusion

Everyone who knows me knows I have a sweet tooth (I LIVE for national doughnut day!), but there’s a difference between mindfully enjoying a treat from time to time and sucking back sugar in everyday foods, from the usual suspects (sodas, sports drinks, milkshake-style coffee drinks, baked goods) to the unexpected, (breads, soups, condiments, cereals, yogurts, snack bars, and more). Here’s the difference: These added sugars are sneaking into our diet, dumbing down our taste buds, and compromising our health, potentially leading to the development of diseases such as overweight and obesity as well as diabetes and heart disease.

Data from the What We Eat in America Food Category analyses for the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee shows that Americans consume 47% of their added sugars from beverages (that number doesn’t include milk or 100% fruit juice) and 31% of our added sugars in the form of snacks and sweets. We know these foods don’t provide nutritional benefits, so let’s make an effort consume less of them. In fact, let’s take the advice of the Dietary Guidelines and strive to consume less than 10% of our daily calories from added sugar—and that includes the above-mentioned, sneaky culprits.

How Does Fruit Factor into the Equation?

Sugar that’s naturally a part of fruit’s genetic make-up comes with vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients that help keep our bodies functioning at their best. Also key is that the fiber and water content of fruit fills you up on few calories so fruit makes a high nutrition impact without any of the unwanted consequences of added sugar. Let’s face it. Few of us would “splurge” on a second apple since the first generally does a good job quashing hunger.

The Dietary Guidelines revealed that our intake of fruit is far below the 2 cup-equivalents per day recommendation (based on a 2,000 calorie diet). That means that as a whole, we aren’t eating much fruit at all. That “hole” in our diet comes with nutritional consequences. We need the vitamins and nutrients found in fruits to help ward off illness and disease, and to help keep us healthy so that we can perform our everyday life tasks.

While we’re on the subject of fruit, juicing is worth a mention. Though 100% fruit juice isn’t included in the above stats on added sugars, juice is a concentrated source of natural sugars and doesn’t contain the fruit’s fiber that fills you up. So if you can’t live without a glass of OJ in the morning or you love your juice machine, stick with a small glass a day and meet the rest of your fruit servings with other forms of fruit—fresh, dried, and frozen.

What else can you do?

  • In addition to snacking on fruits, try adding fruit to salads, cooked veggies, and side dishes. Some thought starters: Sliced strawberries on a spinach salad, roasted grapes along with roasted cauliflower, and golden raisins in a cous cous or quinoa pilaf.
  • Limit the number of sugary treats and sugar-sweetened beverages you consume.
  • Choose whole fruits when possible and limit 100% fruit juice to a 1/2 cup serving (advice worth repeating).
  • Read labels and watch for added sugar (including honey, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, cane sugar, and cane syrup) in items such as yogurt, breakfast cereals and snack bars.
  • Focus on variety – consume more vegetable, whole grains, lean meats, healthy fats and dairy.

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