Sugar Free vs No Added Sugar, What’s Better?

In recent years, there has been an increase in food awareness. People have now started to read food labels in an effort to make healthier food choices. However, nutrient claims on food packaging can be a little confusing, and sometimes deceiving if clever marketing strategies are used. A popular health claim on food packaging is, Sugar Free vs No Added Sugar, so what’s the difference?

Thankfully, nutrient claims about sugar on food labelling have now become regulated by the Food Standards Code. This means a product must meet a certain criteria before it can use a health claim on its label. However, the wording in health claims can be confusing and it’s possible that food companies will use clever marketing ploys to sell their products. Often, consumers will focus on catchy health claims on the front label, however, in order to make an informed decision, it’s more important for you to know how to read nutritional labels on the back of the product. Thus, the goal of this article is to give you quick and easy tips for reading the nutritional label, so in the future, you can potentially avoid dental decay related to sugar.

sugar free vs no added sugar

Let’s Define Sugar Free vs No Added Sugar

Sugar Free

This means a product contains less than 0.5 g of sugar per serving. These products frequently use artificial sweeteners, such as sorbitol, xylitol or erythritol to sweeten a product without adding sugar or additional calories/kilojoules.

No Added Sugar

If a product claims to have ‘no added sugar’, then that doesn’t mean it is sugar free. It simply means that the manufacturer has not added any additional sugar during the processing or packaging of the food. These products are often sweetened by natural sugars (ie. naturally occurring sugars from fruits), and these fruits will be listed in the ingredient section on the product label. It’s important to check the nutritional label, so you can avoid products which have “Added Sugars”.

Read the nutritional label and avoid foods with added sugars. Sugar free vs no added sugar

Free Sugars

These are a type of “Added Sugar”, because they have been extracted from the cells of fruits and vegetables. But in the process, they lose all the good nutrients and fibres. Examples of products with “free sugars” are honey, syrup and fruit juices. These types of products can be misleading because they are often marketed as “naturally sweetened” or “no added sugar”. However, these “free sugars” products behave the same as table sugar. Thus, making them unhealthy sugars for your teeth and overall body.

Moreover, it becomes easier to consume an excessive amount of sugar in the form of “free sugars” without satisfying your hunger. Take for example a glass of orange juice, it has the same amount of sugar as FOUR oranges. However, a glass of orange juice doesn’t satisfy your hunger nor does it give you the same amount of nutrients and fibres as eating 4 oranges. We rarely consume 4 oranges in one sitting, but we can easily drink a glass of orange juice without realising its “Free Sugar” content.

Avoid Free Sugar in fruit juices, because it causes dental decay

Dentist’s Advice on Sugar

According to various scientific articles, “added sugar” and “free sugars” are a major risk factor for developing dental decay. Therefore, cosmetic dentist, Dr. Sanya recommends all patients to avoid food or drinks with “Added Sugars” or “Free Sugars. However, it can be difficult to determine which foods have “Free Sugars”, because manufacturers tend to combine Natural Sugars and Free Sugars into the same category of “Total Sugars” on a nutritional label. However, a good rule to remember is that raw fruits and vegetables are the best options. The more you process raw fruits and vegetables into juices or purees, the more likely they are to contain “Free Sugars”, which are linked to dental decay.

Dietitian’s Advice on Sugar

Limiting our intake of sugar is important for reducing the risk of chronic disease and maintaining a healthy weight. Frequent intake of refined sugars dramatically increases the risk of developing dental decay, Type 2 diabetes & weight gain. Sugars also add a large portion of calories to our diet without much ‘goodness’ in return. As a dietitian, I prefer foods sweetened by using whole fruits, so we can take advantage of their natural sugars, but also maintain their nutrients and fibre! A great example of a fruit-sweetened treat is banana bread, click here for a delicious dentist-approved banana bread recipe.

sugar free vs no added sugar banana bread recipe

Take-Home Message

  1. Don’t just read the marketing slogans on your food packaging, remember to also look at the nutritional label for the hidden sugars.
  2. Avoid food and drinks which have “Added Sugar” or “Free Sugars”, because these can cause tooth decay, Type 2 diabetes and weight gain.
  3. Natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables are healthy, but it’s best to eat fruits and vegetables raw. Avoid consuming fruits or vegetables in the form of juices or purees due to their high “Free Sugar” content.
  4. If you’re ever unsure about a product and its “Free Sugar” content, feel free to ask your dentist or dietician at your next appointment.

Authors: Georgia Hexter (Accredited Dietician) & Dr. Sanya Arora (Doctor of Dental Surgery)

References

ByrdBredbenner C, Ferruzzi MG, Fulgoni VL, Murray R, Pivonka E, Wallace TC. Satisfying America’s fruit gap: summary of an expert roundtable on the role of 100% fruit juice. J Food Sci 2017;82(7):1523–34.

Erickson J, Slavin J. Total, added, and free sugars: are restrictive guidelines science-based or achievable? Nutrients 2015;7(4):2866–78.

Mela, D. J., & Woolner, E. M. (2018). Perspective: total, added, or free? What kind of sugars should we be talking about?. Advances in Nutrition9(2), 63-69.

Sigman-Grant M, Morita J. Defining and interpreting intakes of sugars. Am J Clin Nutr 2003;78(Suppl):815S–26S.

Georgia Hexter

Hi, I’m Georgia, an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD) and Nutritionist. I am passionate about empowering and inspiring others to improve their health and wellbeing through sustainable nutrition and lifestyle changes. I have a holistic approach to nutrition, and believe the best diet is one that includes lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, as well as the occasional treat and a good glass of wine! When I’m not working with clients one-on-one, you can find me in the kitchen creating healthy recipes, or walking Poppy (my rescue greyhound). Follow me on Instagram for healthy recipes, food and nutrition tips, and (big) puppy spam @oftengood

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Sugar Free vs No Added Sugar, What’s Better?
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