Sugar vs. Refined sugar vs. Healthy sugar...I am so confused
“Sugar is the generalized name for sweet, short-chain, soluble carbohydrates, many of which are used in food” according to Wikipedia. That’s simple. I can understand that. I, however, more often than not, find myself confused with all this “healthy” sugar, “non-refined” sugar, “no artificial sweeteners” type talk. Yes, I am one of those people who get a healthy snack bar and look at the ingredients at the back to check what’s in them and although they often say “healthy”, I find that they are packed with sugar. Is that bad for me? Is it bad for my kids? There is just one answer to this question: just check what type of sugar you are having.
Now let’s get a few things clear.
Refined vs Unrefined Sugar
Refined sugar has empty calories, no nutritional value while unrefined sugar retains all of sugar’rs natural nutrients like calcium, iron and magnesium. Raw, unrefined sugar actually has some nutrients and this is why foods like honey, brown rice syrup, maple sugar, cane juice, date sugar, fruit and molasses are better for you. In fact original sugar cane has 10-15% of sugar concentration and rest of it is water, fiber, enzyme, vitamin, and minerals. Refined sugar has 99.5% sucrose and 0.5% water.
The reason why refined, sugar is bad for us is in how we process and metabolise it vs unrefined sugar. The refined sugar is broken down immediately, causing insulin and blood sugar levels to skyrocket. It is digested quickly so you don’t feel full after you eat it regardless on how many calories you consumed. All this energy if not burnt it is stored as fat and might lead to obesity. Although it is not proven that sugar may directly cause high cholesterol and hence heart desease as well as diabetes, obesity is linked to all of the above. Other research says it might be linked to leptin resistance (which may lead to obesity, sleep problems, cravings), it can create an addictive sugar response in the brain and may stress the liver and cause non-alcoholic fatty liver desease.
The opposite happens when you eat unrefined sugar from fruit, the fruit expands in the gut making you feel full. Furthermore it contains no nutrients, just calories with possible chemicals added to it during the refining process.
Is brown sugar healthier than white sugar?
Brown sugar has some molasses retained (hence the brown colour) so technically it is healthier than white sugar but the amount of nutrients is so small that in reality, the benefits are minute. Raw sugar which has nutrients to it has a similar colour to refined, brown sugar but the two must not be confused.
HOWEVER, unrefined does not mean unprocessed.
Unrefined vs Unprocessed
Just because a sweetener is unrefined does not mean it is unprocessed. If it is in powder or liquid form, it is not a whole food; it has gone through some sort of process to get to that state and is highly concentrated. The fiber has been stripped away, which is responsible for making you feel full and helps your body slowly absorb sugar. Whole forms of sugar, such as fruit, are ideal because of the fiber content and lower calorie content, which will leave you feeling satisfied a lot faster. If you really want some cane sugar, chew on sugarcane!
If whole, unprocessed is not an option the healthiest next best alternative are unrefined sugars like maple syrup, honey, date sugar.
Other types of sugars besides sucrose (the white sugar from sugar cane and sugar beet that we are used to):
Fructose: found in honey and fruit (lowest Glycemic Index)
Maltose: found in strarchy foods such as grains, potatoes, legumes, nuts and alcohol
Glucose: a simple sugar found in carbohydrates. It also circulates in the blood and is the preferred energy source for the human body.
Our body needs sugar to function and that’s a fact. Avoiding all types of sugar wlll most likely lead to health problems. However, we should pay attention to what kind of sugar we intake and how much of it. My rule is, everything in moderation! Sure, I will have a cup cake once in a while but I do prefer more natural snacks for my regular snack consumption. In fact, you will be amazed (as I was), with how many delicious sweet alternatives with natural sugars you can find if you look a bit harder (but not too much!), than your neighbouring corner store.
Over the past year I discovered 5 ingredient snack bars that are sweetened by dates, apples or bananas, vegan cheesecakes with maple syrup or coconut sugar, sugar-free raw oreos, sugar-free paleo chocolate chip cookies...you name it!
mouth-watering to share?