By: Alonso Chavarriaga
Natural vs. Refined Sugars
It’s important to distinguish between the two types of sugar. One type is natural sugar that comes from fruits and vegetables. This type comes paired with fiber, vitamins, enzymes and polyphenols. These are the other components that give healthy fruits and vegetables their vibrant colors and antioxidant properties, which in turn help the body easily process sugar.
The second kind of sugar is called added or refined sugar, and can come in many, many different forms. Perhaps the most obvious refined sugar is white table sugar or sugar beets. Added sugars don’t come with any of the positive benefits and instead leave you with pure sugar: empty calories devoid of any proteins, enzymes, vitamins or minerals.
When you read food labels, there can be several terms used to describe refined sugars, including dextrose, fructose, glucose, or just sucrose. Many times there will be a mix of these sugars. For example, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is comprised of 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose.
What about Sweeteners?
When it comes to sweeteners, labels can be very deceiving. Sucralose, which typically is sold under the brand Splenda, is not real sugar even though it is advertised as “made from sugar.” While you may not be consuming actual sugar, your brain can’t tell the difference and releases insulin to manage the perceived sugar. Upon finding that there is no real sugar present, the insulin is not utilized and becomes fat that’s stored in the liver and abdomen.
Another misleading sweetener is agave syrup, which frequently boasts of being “natural,” yet is highly processed and does not remotely resemble the original agave plant.
Surprisingly, even honey can be damaging. While it does have health benefits if taken in moderation, it’s 53 percent fructose – just two percent less fructose than high fructose corn syrup.
Perhaps one of the only sweeteners you can have without too many detrimental side effects is the South American stevia plant, which is very sweet yet largely safe. However, you still want to be careful and realize it’s an added sweetener. If you are consuming stevia without adding any natural sugars from whole fruits or vegetables, your body will still experience insulin spikes that can lead to gaining fat.
There are too many negative side effects from eating refined sugars to make it a smart choice. Aside from putting additional stress on the liver and contributing to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, too much added sugar can also cause gum disease, gallstones, increase bad cholesterol (LDL), and raise leptin resistance. Leptin is your “feeling full” hormone, and becoming resistant to it can lead to weight gain because you will actually want to eat more.
If you are finding it difficult to distance yourself from added sugars, you’re not alone. Extra sugar can act like an addictive drug to your brain, creating a positive feedback loop from cascading hormones that result in you eating much more than you need, followed by insulin spikes. You can get started in the right direction by introducing safer sweeteners like stevia, while gradually adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet to satisfy that “sweet” craving.
In the accompanying audio segment, Dr. Holly discusses what sugar is, how your body needs it to function, and the difference between added and natural sugars.