What are Naturally Occurring and Added Sugars?

As you make grocery runs for the kids this back-to-school season, your top concern may be how much sugar is included in their diets. Those who grew up on cereal that was more tempting than candy and beverage mixes that “needed” double the amount of sugar called for may react negatively to any nutrition labels that include “sugars” on the list, but there is more to keep in mind when choosing the foods right for your family. 

A great example is milk. 

First, milk contains 12 grams of sugar per 8-ounce serving, even if it is whole milk, 2% milk, 1% milk, or skim milk. Yes, the beverage we all drink for wellness has sugar in it, but that does not make it a bad choice for you and your family. Milk has 13 essential nutrients that are an important part of staying healthy and strong. In addition to the 12 grams of sugar in milk, it also contains nutrients like high-quality protein. Every 8-ounce glass of milk provides 8 grams of complete, high-quality protein to help you stay strong, energized, and focused. 

So why does it have sugar? Cow’s milk contains lactose, a sugar that occurs naturally. This is the sugar responsible for that subtly sweet taste in each sip of milk.  

The naturally occurring lactose found in milk is not the same as added sugar, which adds sweetness without the nutrients. Naturally occurring sugars are found in foods like fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose), while added sugars are added during processing or preparation. For example, if you read the label on cartons of milk alternatives like soy, almond, or coconut, sugar has likely been added for a more palatable taste. 

Real milk does not contain added sugars. Its 12 grams of naturally occurring sugars can easily be broken down and provide your body with fuel for your next activity. As for flavored options that the kids enjoy, a serving of chocolate milk contains both naturally occurring and added sugars. Of the total 24 grams of combined sugars, 12 grams are added sugars. Flavored milk is an example of a balanced way to limit sugar while providing a nutrient-rich beverage for bone health and growth.  

And if you are sensitive to the natural sugar lactose, you can enjoy all the health benefits dairy has to offer by choosing lactose-free milk. Lactose-free milk is real cow’s milk – just without the lactose. 

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