The 4 Types Of Sugar(s)-containing Foods And What To Do About Them

Sugar(s) is one of the hottest and most misunderstood topics in the field of nutrition today.

Most people think that sugar(s) containing foods are the root cause for all public health issues, so much so that I have encountered clients who even avoid fruit because they are scared about the sugar content.

As someone who takes a moderate and objective view on the majority of nutrition topics, this phenomenon concerns me.

There is also another side to the argument, however, and that is to simply state that there several sugar containing foods that just don’t do much for our bodies.

With both these points in mind, I have committed to two yet to be announced sugar-related projects this September and have decided to kick things off with today’s article, where I will offer you a bit of a different take on sugar containing foods and how you should approach them.

My Take on Sugar(s)-containing Foods

One of the most important things that we need to understand when it comes to sugar(s) is the key decision that you need to make is not ALWAYS to eat less sugar (although it  very well may be, depending on your current diet) but more so, it is to make smarter choices around the types of sugar-containing foods that you consume.

To simplify things, I have broken sugar-containing foods down into four types and provided specific guidance on each.

The 4 Types Of Sugar(s)-Containing Foods

Type #1 – Naturally occurring sugars in nutrient dense foods

Examples:  Whole Fruits & vegetables, unsweetened dairy & dairy alternatives.

Guidance:  The great majority of people should not think twice about the sugar content of these foods. Not because there is anything special or different about naturally occurring sugars in themselves, but because these sugars come packaged with a host of vitamins, minerals and fibre which you simply cannot be without, especially in the case of fruits and vegetables.

Type #2 – Added sugars in nutrient-dense foods that might otherwise be perceived as healthy

Examples: Sweetened fibre-rich whole grain cereals & other sweetened whole grain products such as oatmeal.  Sweetened  dairy & alternatives, nut butters etc.

Guidance:   These foods all offer some value from a nutritional perspective but replacing the sweetened varieties of these foods with unsweetened varieties and using fruit as an alternative source of sweetness instead will always be the gold standard from my perspective.  Making such a swap will not reduce the overall caloric value of the meal, but it will greatly alter the nutritional value from the perspective of vitamins, minerals, fibre and phytochemicals.

This won’t always be possible with packaged foods such as granola bars or nut butter, so you will have to ask yourself if the extra sugar added to these foods, in the amount you are eating them, is contributing enough calories to negatively impact your weight management goals. The answer to this question will vary widely from person to person depending on their consumption patterns.

Type #3 – Naturally occurring alternative forms of sugars that are perceived to be healthier than they are.

Examples: Maple syrup, honey, jam, agave.

Guidance:  As much as you may not want to believe it, there is very little that separates the nutritional quality of these foods from plain old white table sugar. Both are sources of calories in the absence of other nutrients and are treated in similar ways by your body, independent of fancy branding or packaging.

In fact, intake of sugars from these types of syrups represent one of the top sources of calories in our diets that does not come from food group foods. Technically speaking, the sugars that we add loose to food ( such as coffee etc) is also in this category.

Type #4 – Added sugars in ample amounts in foods that would not be reasonably considered “healthy”.

Examples:  Soft drinks, salad dressing, ice cream, candy, baked goods & other highly refined grain products.

Guidance: The true definition of discretionary foods. We eat them because they taste good and we like them, but, for the most part, they offer very little back to us from a nutritional perspective and will quite likely be high in total calories, including both sugar and fat.  Eating these foods with less frequency is an important step that the majority of us should be making on a regular basis.

There you have it folks, my 4 types of sugar-containing foods and what you should do about them.

I hope today’s article has been both enjoyable and insightful!

Until next time,

Andy De Santis RD MPH