Natural Sugars vs. Refined Sugars: What’s the Difference?
by Vickie Chin on Mar 17, 2023
Once upon a time, in a world where taste buds craved sweetness and energy, sugar was born. But alas, not all sugar is created equal. Gather 'round, for a tale of two sugars, woven together in a delicate dance of nourishment and indulgence.
The protagonist of our story is sugar, an essential hero providing our bodies with the energy we need to conquer our daily battles, from brainpower to central nervous system prowess, and even lending a hand to our trusty red blood cells.
But beware, for lurking in the shadows is the villain known as refined sugar. A sly, tempting foe, it threatens to bring imbalance and chaos to our health. Fear not, for there's a powerful ally in our midst: natural sugar. With grace and fortitude, this champion helps our bodies thrive and flourish.
Join us, as we embark on an enchanting journey to uncover the mysteries of natural and refined sugar, their impact on our well-being, and the secrets to taming the villain with the most scrumptious natural sugar sweeteners. Adventure and wisdom await!
What are Natural Sugars?
Natural sugar is sugar that is naturally occurring in foods.
For instance, the sugar found in fruits like bananas (have you heard of green banana flour?), berries, and citrus is all natural sugar. This natural sugar is produced via the breakdown of carbohydrates found in fruits, vegetables, and grains. Once broken down, these carbs become a sugar called glucose, which provides energy to the body.
Health professionals typically regard natural sugar as not only a safe but an essential component of any healthy diet. According to the American Heart Association, the average person should consume no more than 6 to 9 teaspoons (or roughly 25 to 35 grams) of sugar per day.
However, the AHA further reports the average person eats around 77 grams of sugar per day — more than twice the recommended intake value.
This over-consumption of sugar is not generally the fault of natural sugar, though diets with an excess of fruit consumption can sometimes lead to the over-consumption of natural sugar.
Instead, the fault often lies with refined sugar, which can be a sneakier ingredient that comes in much larger quantities in processed foods and drinks.
The Best Natural Sugars & Sweeteners
If you are someone with a sweet tooth, then you know how hard it can be to cut back on sugar.
Luckily, there are plenty of natural sweeteners that can serve as replacements for refined sugar. These sugar alternatives often provide a much lower quantity of natural sugar, as well as lower overall calories, making natural sweeteners an important component of weight management and a balanced diet.
Here are four of the best natural sweeteners to consider adding to your pantry:
Yacon Syrup: Yacon syrup is a sweetener made by extracting juice from the yacon root. This alternative sweetener is known for having nutrients that help improve your gut health, as well as a very low sugar content — roughly 4 grams of sugar per serving.
We think Yacon syrup could just become your favourite sweetner, ever!
Stevia: Stevia is a sugar substitute that is made from extracts of stevia plant leaves. Despite its sweet flavor, stevia is widely considered to be sugar-free, as it contains virtually no carbohydrates or calories that can be transformed into sugar in the body.
Honey: Honey is a well-loved sugar alternative that is naturally produced by bee colonies. Though honey does have a higher sugar content than other sweeteners on this list, it offers a variety of additional health benefits that make it an excellent and nutritious sugar replacement. One tablespoon of honey contains around 17 grams of sugar — however, honey is very naturally sweet, requiring only small amounts to sweeten drinks and recipes.
Maple Syrup: Maple syrup is the iconic sweetener of Canada, made by extracting sap from maple trees. Like honey, maple syrup does have a higher sugar content, but that sugar is natural and comes with other health benefits like high levels of antioxidants found in maple syrup. One tablespoon of maple syrup contains roughly 12 grams of sugar.
What are Refined Sugars?
Refined sugar is sugar that comes from a natural source, like cane or beets, and is then processed until only the sugar remains. One of the most common examples of refined sugar is the bagged white sugar that can be found at any grocery store or supermarket.
The biggest downside of refined sugar is that it has been stripped of all other nutrients. Unlike natural sweeteners that are not as heavily processed and still contain their naturally-occurring nutrients, refined sugar is purely designed as a sweetener with few additional health benefits.
Examples of refined sugars include high-fructose corn syrup, white cane sugar, molasses, and caramel.
Although refined sugar is not inherently bad for your health, refined sugar can pose a health risk simply because of how easy this type of sugar makes it to surpass your daily recommended sugar intake.
3 Tips to Reduce Your Refined Sugar Intake
If you are trying to reduce the amount of refined sugar in your diet, you have already taken the first crucial step toward improving your health and dietary habits.
Here are three tips for reducing your refined sugar intake:
1. Rid Your Pantry of Refined Sugars (Including Drinks!)
The best way to break a dietary habit is simply to limit your own access to a particular ingredient.
In this case, that ingredient is refined sugar. One of the biggest culprits and sources of refined sugar is actually drinks, rather than food. Beverages like soda, sugary coffees, cocktails, and even fruit juices can be packed with refined sugars that quickly take you way past your intake limit.
As for foods, most processed foods — like pre-packaged desserts — tend to be very high in refined sugar.
To begin reducing your refined sugar intake, the first key step is simply to rid your pantry of these items.
Of course, food and drinks can be expensive, so putting such items to waste can feel irresponsible. Instead, you can start by identifying the foods you have that are high in refined sugar and setting clear boundaries for yourself for portioning out these foods.
Once you have gotten through any stored refined sugars in your pantry, the next essential step is to not replace them with more. Take this opportunity to reimagine your pantry and buy more wholesome foods and ingredients, rather than foods and drinks packed with refined sugar.
2. Watch Out for Hidden Refined Sugars
As you go through the process of identifying refined sugars in your pantry, fridge, and diet, it is crucially important to know where refined sugars can hide.
We all know that sodas and pre-packaged desserts of packed full of refined sugar — but have you ever looked at the sugar content in your salad dressings? What about your canned fruits and vegetables?
Refined sugar is sneaky and can hide in plenty of different foods. The best rule of thumb to follow is that if a food is pre-packaged, you should look at the ingredient list. Processed foods — even healthier foods like canned vegetables — often include hefty amounts of sugar to act as preservatives.
3. Focus on Creating Balanced Meals
Our last tip for reducing your refined sugar intake is to focus on creating more balanced meals.
Where a lot of us go wrong when it comes to avoiding sugar is simply not paying enough attention to what goes into our meals. By being more mindful of the macronutrients in each meal, you can ensure your meals are balanced and not overloaded with refined sugar.
Every person’s ideal macronutrient ratio can differ based on their personal health and fitness goals. For example, a bodybuilder may want a diet higher in protein that helps heal and build muscles, while a long-distance runner may need a diet with larger amounts of slow-releasing carbohydrates (like oats) that provide a steady flow of energy throughout the day.
In general, the average person should aim to eat within the following macronutrient ranges:
Protein: The average person needs roughly 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of their body weight. For the average population, this equates to roughly 45 to 55 grams of protein per day. However, if you are into more intensive fitness (such as weightlifting, long-distance running, or other strenuous activities), a higher protein intake may be needed to support your fitness goals.
Carbs: Carbs typically make up the majority of the average person’s daily diet, accounting for between 45% to 65% of a person’s daily calories. When translating this into grams, this equates to roughly 225 to 325 grams of carbs per day.
Healthy Fat: Fats can be a little trickier to measure out, as it depends on what type of fats you are eating. Healthy fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are commonly found in foods like olive oil, fish, nuts, and seeds. Meanwhile, saturated fats are considered unhealthy fats and are commonly found in processed foods and baked goods. You should aim to eat between 45 to 75 grams of fat per day, with no more than 22 grams of saturated fats.
Dietary Fiber: Dietary fiber is an often overlooked macronutrient but is incredibly important for your digestive health. Fruits and vegetables are generally the biggest sources of dietary fiber. For the average person, eating between 20 to 35 grams of dietary fiber per day should be sufficient for maintaining a healthy digestive system.
- Calories: Though not technically a macronutrient, keeping an eye on your caloric intake can be helpful when working to reduce your sugar intake. Foods with a high sugar content tend to be much higher in calories as well — thus, avoiding high-calorie foods, drinks, and snacks can be a helpful trick for reducing the amount of refined sugars in your diet. The average person should eat around 2,000 calories per day to maintain their current weight.
Final Thoughts: Are Supplements the Key to Avoiding Refined Sugar?
If you are just beginning your journey to eating a healthier diet, it can feel overwhelming to try and remove all sources of refined sugar all at once.
One excellent way to support your health goals through this process is to use dietary supplements, such as the wide range of superfoods supplements offered by Organic Traditions. These supplements can not only help you to hit your macronutrient goals for the day but also provide your body with a much more diverse range of additional nutrients, such as antioxidants.
Visit the Organic Traditions online shop today to find the ideal supplements for your diet!