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What’s the Difference Between Natural and Processed Sugar?

Mar 30 2020

What’s the Difference Between Natural and Processed Sugar?

Sugar has many names, so what’s the difference between natural and processed sugar?

There is nothing wrong with consuming sugar as long as it is the right sugar. There is a meaningful difference between natural sugar found in fruits and vegetables and processed sugar used in seemingly countless manmade products that line the supermarket shelves. 

Your body is perfectly capable of processing a moderate amount of natural sugar, yet the consumption of processed sugar is likely to pack on the pounds, decay your teeth, and lead to the dreaded sugar crash. Let’s take a closer look at the difference between natural sugar and processed sugar.

The Scoop on Natural Sugar

Natural sugar is a sugar found in nature. Fruits, vegetables, and honey contain natural sugar that tastes amazing yet does not compromise your body in the way processed sugar sabotages human health and vitality. The sugar in fruit is known as fructose. This “simple” sugar is also found in honey. Though fructose is difficult to break down, the human liver is capable of processing considerable amounts of it with ease.  

Glucose is the term used to refer to natural sugar in food containing carbohydrates. Carbs and sugars are not the same. Glucose simple sugars are found in foods such as tomatoes, mushrooms, and onions. Glucose is essential to human life as it is present in all living molecules. In fact, glucose is even produced by the human body and broken down by cells within the body.

The Basics of Processed Sugar

Processed sugar, also referred to as refined sugar, is a modified natural sugar. This type of sugar is processed to create a food or beverage with a specific flavor and, sometimes, even a nuanced texture. White sugar used in cookies, pastries, and other baked goods is an example of processed sugar.  

Sucrose is one of the most notable processed sugars as it is a combination of glucose and fructose that creates a complex sugar. Sucrose is commonly extracted from sugar cane or sugar beets to create table sugar. Added sugars are used in processed foods to change their flavor and even extend shelf-life. Many foods you may not expect to have it, such as soup, salad dressing, yogurt, and even bread, contain processed sugar.

Additional examples of processed sugars include molasses, agave syrup, and the infamously unhealthy high fructose corn syrup or HFCS for short. 

A Deeper Look at the Difference Between Natural and Processed Sugars

Understanding sugar: The natural sugar found in fruit should not be viewed in the same vein as the processed sugar used in the sugary delights found on store shelves. The primary difference between these two types of sugars is how they deliver fructose and glucose. Fruits are jam-packed with additional healthy components ranging from antioxidants to vitamins, fiber, and nutrients delivered in combination with the sugar. In comparison, the refined table sugar used to make brownies, cookies, and other unhealthy treats do not contain any other healthy ingredients. The healthy components in fruits and vegetables help the body reduce the absorption rate of the fructose in natural sugar.  

As an example, the limited amount of fructose in an apple is offset by its fiber and other nutritious components. Alternatively, the abundance of processed sugar in the typical container of apple juice will cause a “sugar crash” without the health benefits of the actual fruit. Furthermore, the glucose in processed sugar has quite a negative impact on blood sugar levels that does not occur when fructose is consumed. If an abundance of glucose is consumed, typically through refined sugar, the body will send out a signal of distress, possibly causing the pancreas to produce an excessive amount of insulin that has the potential to spur a low sugar level. This is precisely why the body “crashes” after consuming a considerable amount of refined sugar in the form of candy, desserts, soda, and other processed sweets.

Find a Happy Medium 

There is nothing wrong with eating fruits, vegetables, and honey in moderation as their natural sugars are offset by their nutrients. However, this is not an excuse to consume fruit and honey throughout the entirety of the day. Foods containing processed sugar can create a number of health problems, including onset obesity, type 2 diabetes, digestive issues (gas, bloating, diarrhea), and heart disease. Read food labels to determine if added sugars make up a large portion of the ingredients. The first few listed ingredients usually contain the highest amount.