Sugars are carbohydrates that give our bodies energy. The most common sugars are sucrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, and maltose, with the most common type being glucose. Glucose is the stuff you learned about in your bio class. Glucose goes into your body and is converted to ATP (aka energy) that supports brain function, your major organs, and your muscles.
With over 61 types of sugar in existence, Americans consuming roughly 66 pounds of sugar each year, and the dietary guidelines recommending that your added sugar intake is up to 10% of your daily diet, where do you start?
The first thing to note is that the 10% we mentioned up there only pertains to added sugars, not natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables. Let’s break down low-sugar, artificial sweeteners, refined sugar, and natural unrefined sugar.
Refined sugars (also known as added sugars) are heavily processed and do not have any nutritional value. The food industry’s favorite type of added sugar is high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Consuming an excess of fructose leads to high cholesterol and triglycerides, insulin and leptin resistance and fat buildup.
Low-sugar is categorized by anything that contains no more that 5g of total sugars per 100g. Even though the label says, “low-sugar” make sure you take a look at the nutrition panel. A product may technically be low-sugar but many companies increase the fat content in order to enhance the flavor.
Artificial sweeteners are gaining popularity, but they may be just as bad as added sugars. Sweet foods signal the brain to eat more and artificial sweeteners provide the sweet taste you crave without any calories. The sweetness trains your brain to crave more sweet foods and drinks which can translate to extra calories because you’ll find your body can’t fully be satisfied…you’ll always want MORE sweet.
Unrefined, Natural Sugar
Unrefined, natural sugars are sugars that are in fruits and vegetables such as strawberries and peaches. They usually contain fructose, glucose, and lactose and retain much more of sugar’s natural nutrients including calcium, iron and potassium. Consuming fruits help counteract the harmful damage from added sugars. They contain beneficial vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, protein, omega-3s and fiber. Fruits such as blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries and apples are high in antioxidants which are known to reduce the risk of cancer and fight harmful free radicals.
Most processed foods contain added sugar and empty calories with little nutritional value. Added sugars and natural sugars are identical on a molecular level but your body metabolizes them very differently! The body breaks down refined sugar very quickly which causes blood sugar and insulin levels to increase. It’s easy to lose track of the calories you are consuming since added sugars are digested so quickly and do not fill you up.
There is good news! It’s nearly impossible to consume an excessive amount of fructose from fruit. Whole fruits contain fiber and water and take time to chew and digest. Fiber in fruit (mainly in its skin) and water are a great duo in fighting hunger. Whole fruit contains fiber which promotes fullness and slows down the release of sugar in your bloodstream. Consuming fruit helps slow down digestion to keep you feeling fuller longer which prevents overeating and weight gain. Fiber-rich options are a great way to keep you satiated so you consume fewer calories for a trimmer waistline. You also get the added benefits of nutrients and antioxidants!