Reader Lise Gleasure in Calgary asks, “I’ve been trying to reduce my added sugar (i.e. pop, candy) intake to improve health. How much naturally-occurring sugar (i.e. from fruit or milk) is healthy to eat?” Globe Health columnist and registered dietitian Leslie Beck has the answer:
There are no guidelines to limit natural sugars in fresh fruits and vegetables and milk because there is simply no evidence that consuming these sugars is harmful to our health.
Earlier this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) released strict limits for added sugars – those that are added to foods during processing. WHO called for adults to cut their intake to less then 10 per cent of daily calories or, even better, less than 5 per cent. For a standard 2000-calorie diet, these limits translate to no more than 50 grams (10 per cent calories) and 25 grams (5 per cent calories).
These new guidelines are based on evidence reducing added sugar intake to less than 10 per cent of daily calories helps guards against overweight and obesity. The WHO defined added sugars as those “added during processing, at home, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates”.
But unlike added sugars, there are no specific intake guidelines for natural sugars which occur in fresh fruit and vegetables (called fructose) and milk and yogurt (called lactose).
You might wonder why fruit juice, which contains naturally-occurring sugar (not added sugar) needs to be limited along with other added sugars. While pure fruit juice does deliver vitamins and minerals, it can be high in natural sugar. One cup of orange juice has 23 grams of sugar while one medium orange has 12 grams. And fruit juice has none of the fibre whole fruit does, so it doesn’t fill you up. The extra calories from sugar in fruit juice can, therefore, lead to unwanted weight gain if you drink it regularly to quench your thirst.
Current dietary guidelines recommend that total carbohydrates can make up 45 to 65 per cent of your total daily calories. If you eat, say, 1800 calories per day that means you can consume 202 to 292 grams of carbohydrates each day.
The majority of your carb grams will come from naturally-occurring sugars in fruit and vegetables and starches in foods like whole grains, starchy vegetables and beans and lentils.
The smallest contributor to your total carbohydrate intake – less than 10 per cent of your daily calories – should be added sugars.