In its most basic form, sugar is considered a simple carbohydrate that your body uses for energy. Your body processes natural and refined sugars differently which impacts your overall health and well- being. Sugar comes in many different forms; however, the form people think of first is known as sucrose, or cane or table sugar. A controversial form of sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, is sugar that has been synthesized by corn. This form of sugar has been heavily utilized by the food industry because it is cheaper and easier to use. There are many foods that contain this type of sugar that aren’t inherently sweet. For example: foods like ketchup, tomato sauce, as well as foods considered “healthy” like granola and yogurt all contain added sugars.

How your body processes natural vs. refined sugars:

The method by which your body processes sugars is known as metabolism. There are three main purposes of metabolism, one of them being the conversion of food to energy. When you ingest refined sugars, the body breaks them down rapidly causing your blood sugar to rise rapidly. Refined sugar does not contain fiber, so you do not feel full after consuming it. On the flip side, if you consume whole fruit—which still contains sugar—your body will breakdown the food slowly due to its high fiber content and will keep you feeling full. How your body will utilize the sugar is determined by how much sugar is already in the bloodstream. If there is a high level of sugar in the blood, the body will store the sugar in the form of fat or glycogen. However, once the sugar consumed reaches the small intestine it does not matter if the sugar came from a whole fruit or a soda.

Why is this a problem?

In 1970, Americans consumed approximately 123 pounds of sugar annually. Today, the average American consumes about 152 pounds of sugar per year. This is approximately 3 pounds of sugar per week! If you consume excess sugar your risk of obesity increases. Obesity often precludes diseases such as certain cancers, diabetes, and heart disease. Cancers that are associated with obesity include breast, prostate, uterine, colorectal, and pancreatic.

Sugar is found in just about every processed food package. However, it comes in many forms and are hidden in names not familiar to the average consumer. Here are some example of sweeteners that you may see on labels: dextrose, sorbitol, maltose, sorghum.

How to reduce sugar consumption—the right way!

Cut back on sugary beverages: Reduce or eliminate completely your consumption of sodas, energy drinks, sport drinks, and fruit juices from concentrate. Increase or introduce your consumption of water, sparkling water with lime, water with cucumber, and unsweetened tea or coffee.

Avoid Sugar-Filled Desserts: A large contributor to Americans intake of added sugar are desserts such as cakes, pies, donuts, etc. To satisfy your sweet tooth you can try consuming fresh, whole fruit, dark chocolate, or dates.

Decrease Sugar-Filled Sauces: Sauces such as barbecue sauce, ketchup, and some salad dressings have an alarming amount of sugar. Sugary sauce alternatives are dried herbs and spices, yellow mustard, vinegar, and pesto (make it vegan without the cheese!).

Limit sugary breakfast foods: Breakfast is a time to fuel your body for the upcoming day ahead. Beginning with a sugar-filled meal will not only make you feel hungry again quickly, it can also lead you to a mid-morning energy crash. Incorporate foods such as oatmeal, grits, or avocado.

Bottom Line

Sugar is a carbohydrate that your body uses for energy. Unfortunately, sugars have become chemically altered and placed in many of our favorite foods. While whole fruits contain sugar, they will not impact your body in a negative way like refined sugars will. Eating whole foods—not from a box!—can help reduce your refined sugar intake. Reducing your sugar intake can ultimately prevent obesity and other chronic diseases from developing.


Natural and Added Sugars: Two Sides of the Same Coin