A: There has been a great deal of concern lately about the amount of sugar we eat, and rightly so. High sugar consumption is not a constant in a healthy diet.

nutrition panel

It’s a good idea for everyone to know the sources of sugar in their diet and learn to find the right balance between nutrient and sugar intake.

Sugar is a sweetener that provides calories and is added to food and drinks to give them a sweet taste, as well as texture, body and bulk. It is also sometimes called a caloric sweetener. Sugar is a simple carbohydrate that your body uses for fuel; it has no other nutritional value.

Naturally occurring sugar is found in whole, unprocessed foods, such as milk, fruit, vegetables and some grains. The most common natural sugars are fructose, found in fruit, and lactose, found in milk products. Added sugar, or what most people term “white sugar,” (also in other forms like high fructose corn syrup) is added to processed food and drinks while they are being made, as well as added to your food at home.

But, you should be careful with how much added sugar you eat, because there can be serious health consequences to consuming it. Too much added sugar in your diet can contribute to tooth decay, obesity, difficulty controlling type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The label pictured is for one cup of fat-free milk. You see on the label that this milk has 12 grams of sugar. This is 100 percent lactose, the natural sugar found in milk as it comes from the cow—no sugar is added.

Each individual needs certain amount of calories each day to provide energy. Try to meet most of your daily calorie needs by eating healthy natural sugar foods and other low- or no-sugar foods that provide important nutrients for your body. However, if you are very physically active, or if you choose healthy foods to meet most of your calorie needs, you may have some extra (called discretionary) calories left over. This means you may have some calories left for treats, often high in sugar.

If you fill up on foods or beverages that contain added sugar, you are less likely to consume healthy foods and beverages. Studies have shown that the more sugary beverages (such as soda or juice drinks) people drink, the less milk they drink. Milk provides protein, calcium, vitamin D, potassium and other nutrients that help your body function well, but soda and juice drinks provide a lot of calories from sugar and little to no nutritional value.

To live a healthy lifestyle, it’s important to have a balance of all the types of food you eat, and to be aware of what you’re consuming.