10 Healthy Sources of Naturally-Occurring Sugar

The average American consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar a day. Given that the American Heart Association recommends that the intake of added sugar not exceed six teaspoons daily for women and nine teaspoons daily for men, it is easy to see how added sugar leads the charge when it comes to major causes of the obesity and diabetes epidemics.

But note that these recommendations are for added sugar, not for naturally-occurring sugars such as those found in whole fruits, which have many health benefits in their own right. Additionally, the amount of naturally-occurring sugar found in these foods is not excessive, and is combined with nutrients and fiber—all naturally occurring—that slow the digestion of the sugar that is present so that the body can handle it without turning on metabolism pathways that ultimately lead to insulin resistance, pre-diabetes and diabetes.

What Is Added Sugar?

First, let’s define the difference between naturally-occurring sugars and added sugar. The term “added sugar” refers to and includes all sugars that are added to food, rather than those that occur naturally.

Naturally-occurring sugars, on the other hand, are those such as fructose and lactose, which are found naturally in fruit and milk, respectively. Added sugars, by contrast, are those that are added to foods during manufacturing or processing, during preparation, or at the table before eating.

Added Sugar Goes By Many Names

Because food manufacturers have found many different methods and sources by which to add sugar to foods ranging from ketchup to cereal to soft drinks, it can be difficult to identify added sugar in the ingredients lists on food labels. However, by knowing many of the names that indicate a sugared or sugar-derived ingredient, you can be an informed consumer and opt for the products without added sugar.

The most common names for added sugar include any ingredient ending in “-ose”—such as maltose, dextrose, sucrose, fructose, lactose—as well as high fructose corn syrup, molasses, honey, cane sugar, corn sweetener, evaporated cane juice, raw sugar, syrup, and fruit juice concentrates.

But if you concentrate on eating whole foods that have not been processed, you can avoid these sugary additives entirely.

10 Delicious Sources of Naturally Occurring Sugar

It is no coincidence that the majority of the foods on this list are whole fruits and vegetables. That’s because study after study has shown that the more whole fruits and vegetables you eat, the lower your risk for many chronic diseases, including cancer, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease—including heart disease and stroke.

Whole fruits and vegetables (with emphasis on “whole”—we are not talking about apple pie here) contain loads of fiber, vitamins, antioxidants, and other nutrients that your body needs.

Studies have shown that, due to many of these nutritious properties, eating whole fruits and vegetables can even reduce inflammation within your body. Fruit and vegetable intake has also been shown to improve the function of blood vessels (known as endothelial function).

Fruits and vegetables constitute low-calorie foods. A report by the World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that there is convincing evidence that eating fruits and vegetables decreases the risk for obesity.

Compared to high-calorie foods such as processed foods that are high in sugar and fat, fruits and vegetables are less likely to contribute to obesity or overweight. And, because they contain higher amounts of dietary fiber and other nutrients, they are associated with a lower risk for diabetes and insulin resistance. For the same reasons, they also make people feel full with fewer calories, thus helping to prevent weight gain.


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This fuzzy fruit is known for its sweetness, but one medium peach also contains 3 grams of fiber along with those 13 grams of naturally-occurring sugar, has less than 60 calories and is a good source of Vitamin C and Vitamin A. It also comes with 2.3 grams of dietary fiber (if you eat the peel).

Peaches are commonly sold with either yellow or white flesh. The white flesh is the sweeter version.


Nectarines (Prunus persica var. nucipersica) on white wooden table
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Sometimes thought of as a cousin to the peach, nectarines are another low-calorie source of naturally-occurring sugar. One medium nectarine has 11 grams of sugar and only 63 calories. Its dietary fiber content is 2.4 grams, and it is also a good source of Vitamin C and Vitamin A.


Whole and sliced red apples on dark wood

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” There may be some truth to that old adage when you take into consideration the crucial role that adequate fruit and vegetable intake plays in preventing disease.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that approximately 1.7 million, or 2.8 percent, of deaths worldwide can be attributed to consuming too few fruits and vegetables.

WHO further estimates that insufficient intake of fruits and vegetables causes approximately 14 percent of deaths due to gastrointestinal cancer, 11 percent of ischemic heart disease deaths, and 9 percent of stroke deaths.

One medium apple contains 95 calories and 19 grams of sugar, but is a good source of dietary fiber—4.4 grams. The humble apple is also a very good source of Vitamin C, with one medium apple providing 14 percent of the recommended daily value.


Senior man picking orange, close-up
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Citrus fruit is well known for being an excellent source of Vitamin C. To get the full benefit of the 2.3 grams of dietary fiber in one small orange, you need to peel it yourself and eat it whole, pulp and all. Juicing it would remove most of the fiber.

As for sugar content, one small orange has 9 grams of naturally-occurring sugar, and is a low-calorie food, with just 45 calories. However, in that one small natural package, you’ll find 85 percent of your recommended daily value of Vitamin C.


Close-Up Of Yellow Bananas On Yellow Background
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Bananas are a good source of potassium, Vitamin B-6 (also known as pyridoxine), Vitamin C, and magnesium. One medium banana, peeled and eaten whole, will provide 3.1 grams of dietary fiber and 14 grams of naturally-occurring sugar.


Berry for breakfast
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Almost any berry will fit the bill for excellent nutrition with high antioxidant value and low glycemic index. This is one reason so many berries have been labeled “superfoods.”

Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and more—you really can’t go wrong here. Berries are high in fiber and have varying degrees of sugar content, depending on the type of berry you choose.


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One medium carrot contains only 25 calories, but with that, you get 203 percent of your daily recommended value of Vitamin A, which is essential for eye health. You’ll also get 1.7 grams of dietary fiber from this root vegetable and a relatively low content of naturally-occurring sugar at 2.9 grams.

Carrots are also a source of biotin, potassium, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Vitamin B-6, folate, manganese, Vitamin B-1 (thiamine) and niacin (Vitamin B-3).

Carrots are easily portable and store for a little longer than many other raw foods, making this an excellent choice for snacking on the go.


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You might be surprised to know that peanuts contain naturally-occurring sugars. Depending on the variety of peanut, the sugar content can range from approximately 4 grams to 6 grams per cup of raw peanuts. So you don’t even need peanut butter with added sugars to get your sugar kick from these healthy nuts!

Peanuts are also a good source of plant protein, unsaturated fat and fiber, and are a good source of magnesium. Keeping magnesium levels normal plays an important role in keeping potassium levels normal—and that, in turn, aids in the prevention of certain cardiovascular problems like high blood pressure and abnormal heart rhythms.


Fresh Organic beetroot
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These healthy root vegetables contain approximately 9 grams of sugar per cup, and have been found to contain antioxidants and phytonutrients known as betalains.


Green Pears on Wooden Board
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One medium pear contains 102 calories and 17 grams of naturally-occurring sugar, the highest on this list. But it also has one of the highest contents of dietary fiber—6 grams. Pears are a good source of Vitamin C, and are also a source of potassium and Vitamin B-6.


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