You have a sweet tooth. And you want to indulge. Sugar is abundant all around you in the foods you eat. But for most people sugar is also something they have been told to avoid at all cost if you’re trying to be healthy.
When people tell you to avoid sugar at all costs, or just some sugars, or just artificial sugars, they are opening up what tends to be a laundry list of things you’ll need to avoid. But what if you didn’t have to avoid it all?
Some sugars are better for you depending on your health and wellness goals, and some sugars are problematic and shouldn’t be consumed at all.
Lumping all sugars together wouldn’t make sense because not all sugars are created equal and can act very differently in your body.
We are going to talk about the role natural sugars from specific foods play a role in your body compared to artificial sugars that are made through the use of chemicals to trick your body into thinking it has sugar when it does not.
When we say natural sugars, we are talking about sugars that are found in nature, in whole foods. This includes:
- Fruits of all kind
- Sugar Cane
- Sweet Potatoes
These are sugars in their most natural form, and they tend to be made up of four main components.
- Let’s start with glucose. It occurs naturally in plants and fruits and is a byproduct of photosynthesis. Our bodies burn glucose as energy, or it can convert it into glycogen (essentially: liver and muscle fuel). And our bodies can actually produce glucose when needed.
- Next, fructose! This is fruit sugar, occurring naturally in… you guessed it, fruit! It also occurs naturally in cane sugar and honey and is incredibly sweet. While this is a natural sugar, our body cannot produce it, and it can be difficult to break down in large quantities. It is broken down by our liver, but when it is over consumed our liver can become overloaded and so it is instead turned into fat and stored in our body .
- Onto the more complex sugars, starting with Sucrose. This sugar is found in the stems of sugarcane, the roots of sugar beet, and can be found naturally alongside glucose in certain fruits and other plants. This is typically the sugar you would have on your table, and it is essentially half glucose and half fructose. Even though this sugar is natural, overconsumption can lead to weight gain .
- Last but not least, we have lactose, which is essentially milk sugar! This is something that is created as a result of a process happening in our bodies. When we are young, we typically possess the enzyme necessary to break down this molecule into lactose to be used by the body. However, many people lose this as they get into adulthood.These are the lactose intolerant folks, and they should avoid dairy products.
While natural sugars seem like the right way to go, there is a lot of hype around avoiding fructose at all cost, especially for those who are trying to lose weight. Fructose consumption can also be an issue for those who struggle with blood sugar issues.
But what about people who are just looking for a healthier way to live?
Fruits and naturally occurring forms of sugar in foods are better for you than processed sugars because they come packaged with fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Fiber slows the absorption of sugars in the blood stream by slowing the breakdown of the food so you won’t see a huge spike, and you’ll be getting all the nutrients your body needs.
For those concerned about weight loss, just make sure you’re consuming fruit in moderation as a part of a healthy diet.
If you are concerned about the blood sugar spikes, moderation and choosing low glycemic foods like berries and kiwi are a good choice for when you choose to enjoy fruit as a part of your balanced diet.
So yes, natural sugars are better for you, but only in moderation. Fruit has many benefits, and so you want them in your diet, just be careful not to over do it. It is important to make sure that you are not over consuming these foods and that they are only eaten in moderation.
While we are breaking down the different types of sugar, we should also go into the artificial sugars. These are sweeteners that natural sugars are made into.
These require different levels of processing, and so in an attempt to just bring awareness to how much sugar we are exposed to each day we have a list of sugars that might be found in processed foods on your shelf:
- Agave nectar
- Brown sugar
- Cane crystals
- Cane sugar
- Corn sweetener
- Corn syrup
- Crystalline fructose
- Evaporated cane juice
- Organic evaporated cane juice
- Fruit juice concentrates
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Invert sugar
- Malt syrup
- Raw sugar
Some of these sugars can be considered natural depending on the level of processing they are going through.
However most of these are more processed and, unlike natural sugars, these break down differently in the body. Without the fiber and nutrition, these are void of most nutrients and can cause blood sugar spikes.
So these sugars are not going to be a part of a nutritious diet and should be used in moderation. Knowing how many of these you are taking in each day is important to understanding how much actual sugar you’re consuming.
So why are there so many different names for sugar?
There are over 61 names for the sugars that are added to the foods we eat every day, and this is because big companies look for ways they can pack in as much sugar as possible into small packages, without having to list them in the top of the ingredient deck.
So many companies add sugars to the already existing ones to add flavor and get you to like the product.
But these companies also know that if you knew how much sugar and sweeteners were being added in you would be less likely to buy their product over someone else's.
So it is a good idea to pay close attention to how much sugar is in the foods you are consuming.
Artificial sugars are not found in foods or in nature and have to be made in a lab. While these are now being pushed as better alternatives for people looking to lose weight, cut sugars and still enjoy the sweet tastes.
Artificial sugars would be considered things like:
- Saccharin, aka Sweet ‘n Low. You can use it in both hot and cold foods, but you should avoid this sweetener if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Because this sweetener has no calories or carbs it has is often used by those who are trying to lose weight as it provides the sweetness that we all crave. However, there is evidence that it may disrupt the bacteria in our gut, which can lead to illness and disease. The bottom line is, more research is needed to understand how safe, or unsafe, this sweetener is for human consumption [3, 4].
- Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal). You can use it in both cold and warm foods, and while it may lose some sweetness at high temperatures. People who have a condition called phenylketonuria should avoid this sweetener. This is also one of the most controversial sweeteners used today. Some studies argue that it can cause cancer and increase headaches, while other studies dispute these claims [5, 6, 7, 8].
- Acesulfame potassium or ace-K (Sweet One, Swiss Sweet, Sunett). This is often used in baking, as well as many supplements, as it is 200 times sweeter than normal table sugar. Like the other sweeteners on this list, it is highly controversial.
- Sucralose (Splenda). This can often be found as an alternative sweetener, especially in processed foods and although it is made from sugar, it is far from natural. Due to the over processing of this sweetener, it is not digestible .
- Advantame. This sweetener can be found in baked goods, soft drinks, and other non-alcoholic beverages, chewing gum, candies, frostings, frozen desserts, gelatins and puddings, jams and jellies, processed fruits and fruit juices, toppings and syrups. This sweetener is in so many products and is derived from aspartame.
- Neotame (Newtame). This artificial sweetener can be up to 13,000 times sweeter than table sugar, and like advantame, it is similar to aspartame.
The debate about artificial sweeteners is that most of the time they are being used to take the place of sugars and calories in foods. However, these foods then lose the fiber and the nutrients from natural sugars.
Just because something has fewer calories, doesn’t make it healthy.
You will have to evaluate the other ingredients in it to determine if the food is actually healthy or not. Artificial sweeteners have also been known to cause digestive upset, trigger the need for more sugar cravings, and have a rocky history of safe testing.
The calorie saving bonus does not outweigh the other potential problems they are known to have.
Instead of just worrying about how much sugar you taking in, it essential to also look at the quality as well quantity. Natural foods and supplements like Detox Organics can satisfy your sweet tooth through real foods that lend to real nutrition. If sweets are something you love, you don’t have to give them up.
Being aware of all the processed forms of sugars as well as artificial sugars that cannot be classified as a natural food at all after all the processing should be looked on as once in a great while thing.
Natural sugars from whole foods and whole supplements like Detox Organics give us a way to enjoy more nutritiously packed sweet flavor on an everyday basis for those looking to stay healthy and indulge their sweet tooth too.
- Conlee, R. K., Lawler, R. M., & Ross, P. E. (1987). Effects of glucose or fructose feeding on glycogen repletion in muscle and liver after exercise or fasting. Annals of nutrition and metabolism, 31(2), 126-132.
- Frazier, C. R., Mason, P., Zhuang, X., & Beeler, J. A. (2008). Sucrose exposure in early life alters adult motivation and weight gain. PloS one, 3(9), e3221.
- Suez, J., Korem, T., Zeevi, D., Zilberman-Schapira, G., Thaiss, C. A., Maza, O., ... & Kuperman, Y. (2014). Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota. Nature, 514(7521), 181-186.
- Walsh, C. J., Guinane, C. M., O'Toole, P. W., & Cotter, P. D. (2014). Beneficial modulation of the gut microbiota. FEBS letters, 588(22), 4120-4130.
- Soffritti, M., Belpoggi, F., Tibaldi, E., Degli Esposti, D., & Lauriola, M. (2007). Life-span exposure to low doses of aspartame beginning during prenatal life increases cancer effects in rats. Environmental Health Perspectives, 115(9), 1293.
- Van den Eeden, S. K., Koepsell, T. D., Longstreth, W. T., Van Belle, G., Daling, J. R., & McKnight, B. (1994). Aspartame ingestion and headaches A randomized crossover trial. Neurology, 44(10), 1787-1787.
- Camfield, P. R., Camfield, C. S., Dooley, J. M., Gordon, K., Jollymore, S., & Weaver, D. F. (1992). Aspartame exacerbates EEG spike‐wave discharge in children with generalized absence epilepsy A double‐blind controlled study. Neurology, 42(5), 1000-1000.
- Magnuson, B., & Williams, G. M. (2008). Carcinogenicity of aspartame in rats not proven. Environmental health perspectives, 116(6), A239.
- Wiet, S. G., & BEYTS, P. K. (1992). Sensory characteristics of sucralose and other high intensity sweeteners. Journal of food science, 57(4), 1014-1019.