The Difference between Natural Sugars and Refined Sugars
Natural Sugars vs Processed Sugars for Health
The toxicity of sugar is not a myth. But it can get confusing when trying to figure out the difference between natural sugars and refined sugars. Are they the same? Should we exclude all sugars from our diet? Are there bad sugars and good sugars?
Many people scrutinize sugar consumption, and rightfully so. However, the type of sugar we consume does make a difference. As with anything, overdoing sugar consumption, it is not good; but when you do enjoy a little sweetness in your life, it is imperative that you are choosing foods with natural sugar, as found in fruits.
First and foremost, regardless of the form that sugar comes in, sugar is always a simple carbohydrate. Our bodies process sugar by converting it into glucose which becomes an energy source for our bodies. As with any food in its purest form, and in moderation, there is nothing wrong with having a little. However, not all sugars are the same. When sugar is contaminated with chemicals, as with any processed foods, the negative impact on our bodies is much more severe.
Natural sugar contains essential nutrients that help us maintain a healthy lifestyle and prevent disease. We can find natural sugar in fruits in the form of fructose, and as lactose in dairy products. So why is the sugar in an apple not equivalent to the sugar found in a chocolate chip cookie? It comes down to quantity. An apple has approximately 15 grams of natural sugar, while a chocolate chip cookie has over 20 grams of refined sugar.
Many foods that contain natural sugars are also naturally packed with vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. They also come with other nutritional benefits that can help support our immune system and body in maintaining health. On the other hand, cookies, pies, and candies do not contain these nutrients and do not help with strokes, cancer, heart disease, weight loss, or high blood pressure.
Refined sugar usually comes in the form of sugar cane, and the cane is processed to extract the sugar. These types of sugars are referred to as sucrose which is a combination of fructose and monosaccharides glucose. Baked goods usually include these refined sugars, and it's the additional chemicals from processed sugar that are extremely harmful to our bodies. Not only does the processed sugar negatively impact any nutritional value in the foods, but they are also often used simply as filler ingredients. These processed sugars are found in foods that you would never imagine like crackers, sauces, dressings, and more.
Refined sugars are not processed in the digestive tract in the same way as natural sugars. They have more calories and lack nutrition. As previously mentioned, the natural sugar from fruits include vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein, and also support the body in staying full longer. Eating natural sugar helps us to not over eat and also slows down our digestion process. When foods are lacking nutrients, they go through us faster, and we find ourselves hungry again rather quickly. You may have had this experience after eating fast food or processed foods. Regardless of how much you eat; you might find yourself hungry again and not understand how that is possible.
When we eat food, we want to make sure that we are nourishing our bodies to thrive rather than feeding diseases. By consuming chemically processed sugar versus refined sugar, we feed illness or create it rather than feeding our cells. Today's consumption of sugar by the average person is much higher than what previous generations consumed. That is one of the reasons we now see increases in obesity rates among children and adults. Our grandparents kept it simple; they didn't have an abundance of processed foods filled with refined sugars as we do today.
For better health and wellbeing we simply need to go back to a simple method of eating. Rather than grabbing processed food, eat foods that come from the earth, whole foods. When we get a sweet tooth, instead of reaching for processed baked goods and candy, we can resort to fruits, fresh or dried. Taking the extra time to read labels is a great place to start as it begins to widen our awareness of what is in the foods we are consuming. In many cases, we are not even able to pronounce the ingredients that are listed.
Although natural sugar and refined sugar have some of the same properties, we must remember that the process of refinement adds in so many other chemicals and it's the processing of them that changes the ball game. Fructose, found in fruits, is broken down in the liver and does not create a significant insulin response. Glucose, on the other hand, found in refined sugar, is broken down in the stomach and requires insulin to be released into the bloodstream to be metabolized.
If you are already dealing with any disease like diabetes, cancer, heart disease, etc., it is important to check with your doctor and medical team to get advice on how much and what sources of your sugar intake are acceptable. If you are on a mission for weight loss, then you want to find the best sugar substitute for weight loss. The best sugar substitute for weight loss can vary per individual for a variety of reasons.
When it comes to the best sugar substitute for weight loss or a natural sweetener, it is important to consider that what is being put on the market is for profit. Marketing is there to drive sales, and any risk factors are not always obvious. For example, for quite some time there was a lot of talk about agave being a natural sweetener. As truth was uncovered, many realized that agave was not the miracle natural sweetener that many thought. Things like bananas, dates, raw honey (unprocessed), stevia, and figs have been proven to be better natural sweetener options.
If we keep it simple and stick to whole foods, there are a variety of options we can use to keep our lives sweet. Natural whole fruits, dried fruits, dates, honey, and even stevia come from plants. Stevia as a sweetener is not for everyone. The main reason is that some people do not like the flavor, but when stevia is combined with other things like honey, bananas or dates, the flavor is hidden. Stevia as a sweetener is also one of the best sugar substitutes for weight loss as it doesn't have any calories and does not cause a spike in your blood sugar, causing insulin production.
It all goes back to the adage, Keep it Simple. Pay attention to where your foods are coming from, and stick to whole foods that come from Mother Nature. To cut sugar out of your diet completely may not be a sustainable or even healthful practice. But always questioning where your food comes from and how your body will receive it is a great starting point.
We offer you some of our recipes that leave out refined, processed sugars as a way to support you on your journey.
- Origination of Dried Fruits
- When is the Best Time to Eat Dried Fruits?
- The Best Way to Soften Dried Fruit
About the Author
Lisa Saremi is health and wellness coach for Limitless-U and blogger for eatnuts.com. Lisa received training as a Health Coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition's cutting-edge Health Coach Training Program on dietary theories, practical lifestyle management and innovative coaching methods with top health and wellness experts.