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Do natural sugars and refined sugars affect the body the same way?

Are all sugars the same? Do they affect our body the same way? Should we opt for one over the other or avoid both?

All forms of sugars are simple carbohydrates that are broken down for energy but refined sugars and natural sugars are definitely different.

Refined sugar contain no nutritional value, it’s essentially empty calories with no protein, fats, vitamins or minerals.

When we consume it, as there is no fibre to slow down its absorption, it’s digested rapidly and enters the blood stream quickly, causing a sudden raise in blood sugar.

When the pancreas detects a rush of sugar, it releases the hormone insulin that will remove the sugar from the blood and transport it to the tissues helping to store all of this glucose in the liver and muscles as glycogen and in fat cells.

The more sugar in the blood stream, the more insulin is released. When we constantly consume refined sugar, there is too much circulating insulin is which results in our blood sugar to “crash”, dropping below normal levels. This is the body’s way to signal that it needs a source of energy fast and the quickest one is sugar initiating a vicious cycle that makes us crave more sugar.

The over consumption of sugar long term can lead to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, insulin resistance, the stiffening of collagen and elastin affecting skin and joints, tooth decay and have a detrimental impact on the function of liver and kidneys.

On the other hand, natural sugars such as fructose in fruits or glucose in carbohydrates sources like fruits and plants, contain micronutrients like vitamins and minerals and won’t negatively affect the body as refined sugar does. We actually need these forms of sugar as our cells use it as fuel to function and perform their essential metabolic processes. In our bodies glucose can be burned as energy or converted into glycogen which is fuel for liver and muscles. Fructose tends to be extremely sweet and can cause a rise in blood sugar levels but when we eat fruit, we are not only consuming fructose but also fibre, water, vitamins and minerals. So the rise will be definitely less significant than table sugar or high fructose corn syrup. Fibre and water help to slow down digestion which will avoid insulin spikes and blood sugar highs and lows.

But what about healthy sugar alternatives? Maple, date, coconut and brown rice syrup, stevia or other may be a slightly better choice when preparing something sweet. But keep in mind that even though many won’t have a high glycemic index or cause an extreme sugar high and even contain certain minerals and vitamins, they are still sugars and not whole foods. So enjoy them in moderation.

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