It has been much too quiet on the blog during these past few weeks, wouldn’t you all agree? Don’t worry, I’m back, and I’m excited to share this post that I’ve spent quite a bit of time on with all of you!
In this post I will be going over the various types of sugars and sweeteners that people tend to use, and then you can decide on which ones you should officially remove from your life.
I also want to stress that eating healthy isn’t necessarily about you searching for the best sweeteners/sugars to use. You should be eating whole natural foods and limiting your intake of processed foods and added sugar. If you are buying processed foods, be sure to read nutrition labels. Just because something is advertised as healthy, doesn’t mean that it is.
If you would like to learn how to properly read nutrition labels, subscribe to receive a free PDF that will teach you how to do so.
Below is also an infographic that explains how sugar works in our body. Following that will be another infographic that will give you a quick blurb on what we’ll be reviewing in this post.
Now that you have an understanding of how sugar works in your bodies, let’s get to the types of sugars that exist and what we should include/exclude from our lives.
Okay, I wanted to remind you that added sugar is something we should all limit/eliminate from our daily lives. Adults should only consume 25-37 grams of sugar a day. Kids should be consuming no more than 23 grams of added sugar a day (American Heart Association). Added sugar, whether it’s glucose, fructose, sucrose, maltose, or any of those things that end in -ose, can cause type 2 diabetes, obesity, cancer, heart disease, and more. They should definitely be avoided!
Added sugar is only found in processed foods, not in whole fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, or legumes.
You can subscribe to receive a free PDF that will teach you how to properly read nutrition labels.
Worst Sweetener/Sugar to Best
1. Brown Rice Syrup and High Fructose Corn Syrup
We all know that high fructose corn syrup is evil; therefore, I won’t go into it with very much depth. Avoid anything with high fructose corn syrup. Simple enough, right?
Both brown rice syrup and high fructose corn syrup are generally found in processed foods such as granola bars, candy, drinks, etc. Cliff Bars and other granola bars that are marketed as ‘healthier’ than others still contain brown rice syrup.
What is brown rice syrup? It sounds like it’d be healthy.
Brown rice syrup is one of those things that sound deceivingly healthy. It is processed from brown rice, and although brown rice is extremely nutritious (plenty of fiber, some protein, etc.), the syrup provides absolutely no health benefits and is mostly empty calories (Authority Nutrition).
In fact, brown rice syrup is actually higher in calories than white table sugar and is higher on the ‘glycemic index’, which means it affects your blood sugar levels a lot more than table sugar. It is a simple sugar and all of the glucose will immediately cause a spike in your blood sugar, can lead to obesity, and can cause Type 2 diabetes. Not recommended for anyone. This syrup is just as terrible for you as high fructose corn syrup.
Where is it found?
Processed foods such as granola bars and even a lot of jams/jellies/berry preserves. Read nutrition labels before purchasing anything!
2. Agave Nectar
Once advertised as healthy, we’ve now discovered that it no longer is. Some places still falsely advertise it as being healthier than your everyday table sugar, but in actuality, it is equivalent to high fructose corn syrup. In fact, Dr. Axe states that “it is basically high fructose corn syrup masquerading as something healthier.”
What is it?
Agave nectar (syrup) comes from a blue agave plant (most of the times). Yet just because it derives from a plant doesn’t automatically make it healthier for you. Before you can eat it, it must be highly processed and any health benefits that the nectar may have contained is destroyed. You end up with a highly concentrated syrup.
What’s wrong with it?
It’s a syrup. Although it is lower in glucose than sugar, it is high in fructose. Our bodies are more efficient at breaking down glucose because it is naturally found in all of our foods and every cell in our body is able to break it down for energy. Fructose can only be metabolized by our liver, and when consumed in high doses, large amounts of the fructose will be stored as fat in our liver or tissues. An excessive amount of fat in our bodies may adversely affect our organs and cause other health issues.
Where is it found?
It can be found in processed foods pretending to be ‘health foods’ and in bottles lining the shelves in your grocery store.
Note: Fructose found in whole fruit is definitely okay to eat. It’s very difficult to get too much fructose from whole fruit. What we are talking about here is highly concentrated fructose that has been processed and added into other foods or turned into syrups.
3. Table Sugar
Our average white table sugar is high on the glycemic index, as in, if you were to consume it, it would automatically cause a spike in your blood sugar and give you a lot of energy. Yet what your body doesn’t use for energy within a certain timeframe will be stored in your liver or adipose tissue (fat). It doesn’t provide any health benefits.
4. Maple Syrup, Honey, Molasses
People use maple syrup, honey, or molasses as opposed to refined white table sugar because they’re more natural and contain more health benefits (vitamins and minerals). It is important to note that all of these sweeteners are still simple carbohydrates and so they pretty much act the same in your bodies as the refined sugars.
Why should you still be very careful when consuming these natural sweeteners?
When consuming simple carbohydrates, glucose is quickly released into your blood stream and causes your blood sugar levels to spike. In turn, your insulin levels rise as well to try to regulate your blood glucose by either making your body use up that energy or storing it for later.
If your body doesn’t immediately use up the energy, the glucose will get stored in your liver or muscle tissue as glycogen, packages of glucose, to be gradually released for use later. However, if your liver storage gets full, which for most people they often are already full, the excess sugar will get stored in your body as fat (AKA: adipose tissue), and when all of those regions of your body are full of fat, the fatty acids start to affect your organs and cause a multitude of health problems. The simple carbohydrates can also cause unstable energy levels, where you can feel extremely energetic for a while and then lethargic.
5. Dates or Fruit
I love using dates or date sugar as a natural sweetener because they’re fruit! They have no added sugar. Although they are very high on the glycemic index for fruit, they are also very high in fiber. The fiber makes them classified as complex carbohydrates instead of simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are better for our bodies. Why? See below.
How does it work in our bodies and why is it better than all of the sweeteners above?
As a complex carbohydrate, the fiber slows the release of fructose or glucose being released into your blood stream. This results in a more sustained release of energy that you can constantly/consistently use, and a less likelihood of the sugar being converted into stored fat. Complex carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, etc.) also come with other health benefits such as high amounts of essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
As long as you don’t overeat dates/fruit, none of the sugar from them will be stored as fat or cause type 2 diabetes.
Read more about dates and making date puree here.
Where is it found?
It is kept in the produce section in grocery stores (generally with the fruit). It is also found in some granola bars such as Lara Bars which are made of whole dates.
- Sugar comes in various forms and the healthiest types are the ones that are naturally found in our fruits and vegetables.
- Extracting sugar from our vegetables and fruit and turning them into syrups does not make them healthier.
- Processed foods often have hidden sugars and it is important to read nutrition labels (subscribe to receive a free PDF on how to properly read nutrition labels).