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.
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.
How sugar affects the body?
Sugar is something we’re all starting to fear. From weight gain to heart conditions, sugar is the main contributor to serious health issues sweeping the globe. We all try to say no to our sugar cravings every now and then, but the struggle is real when nearly 60% of packaged foods contain some form of added sugar.
What we do need to be conscious of is the harmful health effects associated with excessive sugar consumption due to the climbing number of added sugars appearing in staple Western foods. A survey examining over 15,000 Americans found that the average person consumed 82 grams of added sugars per day-over 3x as much as the daily recommendation of 25-37.5g.
How much sugar is too much sugar?
The World Health Organization recommends limiting added sugars to 5–10% of your daily calorie consumption. In other words, if you’re eating the average recommended 2,000 calories per day, added sugars should weigh in at 25–50 grams which is considered a healthy amount of sugars per day to consume.
The issue here is we have lost control of what foods do and don’t contain sugars. Man-made sugars can appear under at least 56 different names in the ingredients list and are not just added to sweet products like sodas, cakes, and candies, but also to foods you might not expect like condiments, bread, and even protein bars. When buying foods, make sure you are carefully reading the ingredients list to find any hidden sugars, or better yet, join the MiiRO community and never have to worry about those pesky little synthetic sugars ever again!
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, sugar-free foods may still contain artificial sweeteners like aspartame, xylitol, and more. These foods are still compatible with a sugar-free diet, but it’s up to you to decide whether you want to eat them.
In addition, 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 if you’re adhering to a strict low-carb or no-sugar diet.
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.
No added sugar vs sugar-free- Which is best?
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 can be 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.
With that guideline in mind, unless having a specific health concern or medical condition (if so, your Doctor is the best person to advise) 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.
All in all, added sugars should be limited. But there is no need to worry about those found naturally in foods. Consuming a diet high in whole foods and low in processed foods is the best way to avoid added sugars.
How to avoid added sugar in your diet in 2 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.
At MiiRO we promote a plant-based lifestyle as, like natural sweeteners, it is a better option than going-all in on the bad stuff. Take care of yourselves and be sure to follow up on some of our latest blogs where we go into more detail on becoming plant-based and leading a healthy lifestyle.
Which Refined Sugars Should We Avoid?
There are some refined and added sugars that plenty of us want to avoid for the good of our bodies. They don’t have much nutritional value, they’re high in carbohydrates and calories (making them a no-go if you are following a keto diet), and they’re high on the glycemic index. That seems like a “no, thank you” to us!
As a little refresher, the glycemic index gives a numerical value to different kinds of foods. The higher the number, the more that specific food will affect your blood sugar. If you’re trying to manage your diabetes or make more thoughtful snacking choices, being mindful of where your favorite foods fall on the glycemic index is a good idea.
Here are a few refined sugar sources and sweeteners that you should try to go without:
- Cane sugar
- Brown sugar
- High fructose corn syrup
- Evaporated cane juice
- Raw sugar
- Powdered sugar
Who Should Avoid Foods With Added Sugar?
Truthfully, all of us could benefit from limiting the amount of foods with added sugar that we consume.
Too much added sugar can cause:
- Inflammation in the body
- Weight gain
Eating foods with high amounts of added sugar can also put you at higher risk for:
- Heart disease
- Alzheimer’s and dementia
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Liver disease
- Kidney disease
Plus, as we mentioned earlier, added sugars offer little to no nutritional value, making them essentially empty calories. Why consume a ton of calories without getting anything in return? Sounds like a bad deal to us.
Whole foods provide us with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. You can get more bang for your buck, calorie-wise, by selecting foods that are unsweetened, low-sugar, no sugar added, or sugar-free.
Choosing to forgo sugar-laden foods does NOT mean choosing to forgo deliciousness! There are many possibilities when it comes to sugar substitutes and sugar alternatives that can please your sweet tooth while being a healthier option.
If you’re curious about what to use instead of cane sugarin your morning coffee, or corn syrup in a recipe, read on!
What are healthy alternatives to sugar? Which sugar substitute is best?
Stevia is extracted from the leaves of the Stevia Rebaudiana plant and is known for being naturally sweet. These days it is manufactured into either a tablet or powder sweetener.
The leaves contain compounds that are hundreds of times sweeter than sugar, gram for gram. Meaning less of it is needed for the same sweet taste and has virtually no calories.
Stevia has wonderful effects on blood pressure with evidence showing that stevia can lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. However, it has no effect on blood pressure that is normal or only mildly elevated. Those reasons make stevia a healthy alternative to sugar.
If you need to sweeten something, stevia may be your healthiest choice. Initially, stevia may require a bit of getting used to because it has a slight aftertaste. That’s why at MiiRO we developed our own blend that is not only delicious but also filled with the full health benefits of Stevia.
Erythritol is a sweet powder that can be sourced from fruits, corn, or even organisms like lichens and algae.
They are considered as healthy alternatives to sugar as they are a carbohydrate that does not contribute to calorie intake. These ghost carbohydrates do not break down in the body and therefore do not contribute to your daily carbohydrate intake. The results make for a great low-calorie sweetener.
Powdered erythritol sweeteners bake in a way almost identical to sugar. Use it to make home-baked goodies that are sugar-free and guilt-free!
For all those reasons we believe stevia and erythritol are the best sugar substitute.
Alternative sugars for better health
Keeping in mind that we need to balance our intake of sugars is easier when we stay away from heavily processed foods. Sugar will never work in full harmony with our bodies, but natural sugar alternatives are slightly less harmful than regular old table sugar and contain way more nutrients.
Honey is a thick, golden liquid produced by bees.
It contains trace amounts of vitamins and minerals, as well as an abundance of beneficial antioxidants.
The phenolic acids in honey are responsible for its antioxidant activity, which can help prevent diabetes, inflammation, heart disease, and cancer.
Many studies throughout the years have attempted to establish clear links between honey and weight loss, decreased glucose levels, and reduced hyperglycemia.
While honey has promising health benefits, it contains fructose, which can cause health problems if excessively consumed. So, while honey is not completely harmless, it is a great alternative to sugar when drinking tea or used to glaze your breakfast granola.
Is honey vegan?
Veganism exempts the consumption of all foods made of or derived from animals. Honey is an animal product and therefore not vegan.
At MiiRO, we don’t like using honey as a sweetener because of the unethical practices and environmental effects. Instead, we use sweeteners which we will go into more detail about in the second part of this article!
Maple syrup is a flowing, amber liquid that’s made by cooking down the sap found in maple trees.
It contains minerals, including calcium, potassium, iron, zinc, and manganese. It even contains more antioxidants than honey.
Despite some beneficial nutrients and antioxidants, maple syrup is still very high in sugar. It has a slightly lower glycemic index than regular sugar, so it may not raise blood sugar levels as quickly. Yet, it will still raise them. Consume maple syrup in moderation, saving it for a drizzle on breakfast pancakes.
We love maple syrup, but for us, a sugar-free maple syrup was something we just couldn’t live without. That’s why we created our very own sugar free maple syrup with a unique blend of sweeteners to replicate your favorite tabletop staple without the sugar concern.
Sugars in fruits
Fruits are a great source of the natural sugar fructose, but some contain more volumes than others.
Whole fruits are abundant in vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals our body needs to function and be healthy. But remember that fructose is the sugar that when consumed in excess causes weight gain. Although fruits are a great sugar boost and better for our bodies than sucrose, too many of them can have an adverse effect and cause health issues.
Coconut sugar is extracted from the sap of the coconut palm and tastes similar to table sugar but with a slight caramel flavor.
Is coconut sugar better for you than regular sugar? It’s a slightly healthier alternative to brown sugar because it contains antioxidants and nutrients, including iron, zinc, calcium, and potassium. It also has a high inulin content. Inulin is a soluble fiber that has been shown to slow digestion, increase fullness, and feed the healthy bacteria in your gut.
However, coconut sugar still contains a lot of sugar and is very high in calories, containing the same number of calories per serving as regular sugar so be sure to use it sparingly. That’s why we consider it as a slightly healthier alternative to brown sugar you can add to drinks or desserts for an extra nutrient boost.
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.
We went through some healthy sugars alternatives that are a better alternative to the not-so-healthy table sugar. These sugars contain a higher nutritional content than standard table sugar and have way more vitamins. Consuming a diet high in whole foods and low in processed foods is the best way to avoid added sugars.
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!