Sugar is naturally present in the healthiest foods on earth: fruits and vegetables. It’s part of the nutritional mix that includes the essential nutrients and beneficial phytonutrients found in plants. That’s the key to the healthy side of sugar. Whether it is a natural part of the nutrition you ingest or it has been added to foods, snacks and beverages determines the best or worst side of sugar.
Of course, the sugar industry along with companies that manufacturer sugar-laden products see it differently: sugar is a safe, inexpensive food. And there have been attempts to manipulate the science to sell its sweetness.
Although natural plant sugars include glucose, fructose, maltose and sucrose, a steady diet of foods that contain added spoonfuls of sugar is not a healthy practice. It has played a major role in the worldwide rise of obesity and diseases such as type 2 diabetes. Added sugar’s not-so-sweet side also increases the risk of heart disease. Regrettably, the popularity of ultra-processed food products packed with sugar has contributed to a global health issue.
One cross-sectional study of 9,317 U.S. participants revealed that the dietary intake of “ultra-processed foods comprised 57.9 percent of energy intake, and contributed 89.7 percent of the energy intake from added sugars.” In contrast, another study showed that fruit and vegetable consumption is very low among most American adults. Such studies really illustrate the unhealthiness of added sugars compared to the healthy, natural amounts in whole, plant-based foods.
Eating sufficient amounts of fruit and vegetables helps prevent chronic diseases, and evidence-based research confirms this. One meta-analysis showed a higher intake of fruit and vegetables lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes.
A seven-year prospective study just on fresh fruit consumption among 500,000 Chinese adults also revealed some interesting results. Those who did not have diabetes and consumed fresh fruit daily lowered their risk of developing this debilitating disease by 12 percent.
Diabetics in the study who consumed fresh fruit more than three times a week lowered their risk of dying from any cause by 17 percent. They also had a 13–28 percent lower risk of developing diabetes-related complications compared to those who consumed fruit less than one day per week. This research says a lot about the natural sugar in fruits not being associated with higher blood sugar levels. However, it is recommended that fruits such as overly ripe bananas and watermelon be eaten in moderation by those with diabetes.
These studies and a wealth of other research provide scientific evidence that even with the natural sugar found in fruit and vegetables, consuming these plant-based foods on a regular basis is one of the healthiest steps anyone can take in the direction of good health.