So over the passed few years I have cut sugar for periods of time on several occasions. Each time I do this, it is inevitable that I get at least one “well are you cutting fruit too?” and I always say “uhhhhnoyoucray?” The response is usually something along the lines of “OH. Well then that’s easy. Sugar is sugar, what’s the point if you’re not going to cut fruit too?” Well asshole, (kidding…not kidding), you’re wrong. SO, I reached out to my good friend Dr. Chanel Cressman to “dumb it down” for us, and help explain the differences between sugars, and why they are absolutely not all created equal.
Here she is!
I’ve often had people ask me about the differences between sugars. From white sugar, to honey or maple syrup, to artificial sweeteners– what’s the difference? Are some better than others? Does the body respond differently to different sources of sugar? So here goes my breakdown on that– sugar vs sugar, what’s the diff?
What you need to know
Nerd alert! Because I can’t talk about sugar without discussing how it impacts the body, I am going to break into a mini biochem lesson to help add some context in explaining things.
When the body takes in any carbohydrate (= sugar) through our gut, it breaks that down into “simple sugars” and pumps that through the blood stream. This is how our blood sugar gets raised. When it’s raised too quickly (like after I chug my mocha chocolate frappuccino) the body releases insulin to gather up the extra sugar to store for later– as a fat cell.
Now there are lots of different kinds of sugars (glucose, fructose, galactose etc) that the body can use, but it’s favourite is glucose. So when we eat other types of sugars, the body has to work harder to convert them over to glucose before it uses that as energy.
Okay, back to the real talk about sugar in our diet.
So in knowing that different sugars all get converted to glucose, than that means sugar = sugar, right? Well, not exactly. How sugar comes in, makes a big difference in how our body processes it. Remember how insulin gets released when we have too much sugar in our blood stream? That means, taking in straight sugar (for example in our coffee) will “spike” our sugar levels compared with sugar that comes in, for example, as a piece of fruit. With fruit, the body has to work to pull out the sugars from the fibre, nutrients, and vitamins that are all in there together. So that sugar “spike” doesn’t happen, because the body processes it more slowly.
PLUS– sugar in fruit is fructose, which means the body needs to work to convert that to glucose before it can use it effectively. Even better, is the fact that the fruit sugar comes along with so many other healthy ingredients, like vitamins and minerals.
What about artificial sweeteners?
Now in terms of artificial sweeteners– I have to say I’m not a fan. Although these have “zero calories,” these are synthetic garbage, in my opinion. Doesn’t the fact that they have the term artificial as part of the name not make you think ‘that’s a little freaky?’ Our body doesn’t know what these artificial sweeteners are, so this is where low-grade inflammation starts to happen. The body breaks things down two ways– self (aka. good) or non-self (aka. bad). And artificial sweeteners = non-self. You know what else the body ID’s as non-self? Parasites. Bacteria. Viruses. Need I say more? (NEED SHE SAY MORE?)
In the big scheme of things, we all need sugar to function. But where we get that sugar, and what else comes with that sugar, can make a big difference in how our body looks and feels. So next time, hold the cheesecake and pass me the fruit!
- Dr. Chanel Cressman, Naturopathic Doctor
p.s. Follow Chanel on her blog for more great nutritional advice and great recipes!