No added sugar vs sugar-free. What is the difference? The two phrases sound so similar, but they can mean very different things when you’re scanning food labels.
Let’s take a closer look into what no added sugar and sugar-free actually mean and figure out which one is better.
For the sake of our health, no added sugar sweet treats like ours might just be the solution to our sugar concerns.
What is sugar?
Sugar is a type of carbohydrate that the body converts into glucose and uses for energy. It can have some pretty nasty effects on your health if you consume too much of it. Some sugars occur naturally in food such as fruit and milk. But we don’t need to cut down on these types of sugar: it’s food that contains added sugars that we need to be cutting down on.
What is no added sugar?
No added sugar means no sugar has been added to food or drinks. However, they can still contain a naturally occurring sugar.
A smoothie manufacturer making a smoothie from fresh strawberries with no added sugar sweeteners produces a no added sugar smoothie. There will still be natural sugar from the strawberries.
On the other hand, if a smoothie manufacturer adds sugar to sweeten their strawberry smoothie recipe, it creates an added sugar smoothie. There will be natural sugars from the strawberries in addition to the added sugars.
IMPORTANT NOTE: It’s important to know that ‘no added sugar’ refers specifically to sugar. No added sugar products can still contain sweeteners that enhance flavor.
What does unsweetened mean?
Unsweetened means that no sugar or sweetener has been added to food or drinks to make them taste sweet.
Unsweetened items can also contain naturally-occurring sugars from sources such as fruits and dairy. Unsweetened food and drinks will not have any sweeteners added to enhance their flavor – it’s all-natural!
What is sugar-free?
Sugar-free means the total absence of sugar from your diet or food.
To be sugar-free is to consume zero sugar. This includes avoiding sugars that are found naturally in fruits, vegetables, honey, etc.
However, according to the FDA, a food is considered “sugar-free” if it contains less than 0.5 grams of sugar per serving. So be careful here, and make sure to check your food labels.
So, is no added sugar the same as sugar-free?
The answer is no. Sugar-free is what it says on the label- no sugar. No added sugar foods can still contain naturally-occurring sugars.
How to avoid added sugar in your diet?
Sugar has a bad reputation and the idea of going sugar-free may sound appealing at first. Your brain may think “Going sugar-free will cut out the hassle of figuring out which products have sugar, and which don’t, and my problems are solved” right? But this isn’t necessarily the case.
Going sugar-free is a hard feat. One that is very difficult to achieve and not necessarily the best thing for your body. For example, almonds contain 1.23g of naturally occurring sugar per serving. However, we can all agree almonds are fantastic for our health, and we won’t be giving up nut butter any time soon. Even research shows that they can naturally decrease glucose and insulin levels after eating, as well as being a great source of vitamins and proteins.
Sugars are a form of carbohydrate our bodies need to function. They provide glucose which gives our cells energy. A naturally occurring sugar is a form of sugar that can be found in fruits, vegetables and milk are all good sources of sugar when consumed in moderation because there is no reported evidence on adverse effects from consuming these sugars. The World Health Organization recommends that adults and children reduce their daily intake of free sugars to below 5% of their total energy intake or roughly 25 grams (6-7 teaspoons) per day.
No added sugar vs sugar-free- Which is best?
With that guideline in mind, it is best to consume natural sugars or no added sugar foods. When buying store-bought products, look for the unsweetened or no added sugar food label. This way you can guarantee that no artificial sugars will be in the food and drinks you consume.
How to avoid added sugars in 2 simple steps
STEP 1- Eat foods that contain no added sugar
The FDA permits a food label to claim “no added sugar” if “no sugar or sugar containing ingredient is added during processing.” So, if sugar isn’t added to the food manually, it can carry this claim. Naturally occurring sugars, artificial sugars, and sugar alcohols may still be present.
Vegan Friendly No Added Sugar Foods List:
- Beans and Lentils
- Nuts and Seeds
- Whole Fruits
- ALL MiiRO products
STEP 2- Stay away from artificial sugars
Health experts can agree that more effort needs to be made to reduce your sugar intake. Consuming less sugar can stabilize energy levels, reduce tooth decay and clear your skin.
Dr Alison Boyd tells Medical News Today, “The key thing to remember is that sugars occur naturally in a wide range of foods – including fruit, vegetables and dairy products – and can be consumed within a healthy, balanced diet and active lifestyle.”
Eating a diet high in whole foods and low in processed foods is the best way to avoid added sugars. No added sugars and unsweetened products you find at the grocery store will guarantee that no synthetic sugars are in your food and drink. Buying these products help you steer away from picking up foods that are heavily processed.
In this article we explained in detail the difference between no added sugar vs sugar-free and how to reduce your sugar intake moving forward.
Are you someone that completely banned sugar from your diet? Perhaps, like us, you follow a no added sugar diet?
Or if you don’t reduce your sugar intake- what’s holding you back?
Share your story in the comments!