There’s sugar in a donut. And there is sugar in corn and apples. But are they the same?
In a word, no.
There are refined sugars in foods like candy, sodas, sugary cereals and baked goods. Everyone agrees that these are poor quality foods. These sugars are known by names such as sucrose, dextrose, high fructose corn syrup and maltodextrin. These sugars are processed very quickly and, as a result, cause blood sugar to rise quickly because there isn’t much substance to them. They are highly refined and contribute to poor control in diabetics and also to weight gain.
There are also sugars in foods like fruit, potatoes, beans and corn, but these are unrefined, natural sugars that your body processes very differently. Natural sugars in whole foods are not empty calories. They enter the body in combination with lots of good stuff like water, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber content.
Water, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber are considered micronutrients, so called because the body only needs a small amount of them. When you eat a piece of sweet corn, for example, you get sugar in a package that helps your body process it in a way that keeps your blood sugar stable over time.
In addition, the fiber and water content help you feel full, ensuring that you’ll stop eating before you’ve ingested a huge number of calories. This is not true with foods that contain refined sugar. Think about how much candy or how many bowls of Super Sugar Puffs you would have to eat before you felt satiated.
This is an important distinction. Highly refined, processed sugars are unhealthy. Unrefined, natural sugars that come packaged in whole foods are perfectly healthy. As an added bonus, the more you shift your diet to eating whole, unrefined foods, the less cravings for refined sweets will bother you.
So you can safely ignore the saying of advocates in the low-carb, Paleo world who claim “sugar is sugar is sugar” as if it makes no difference from where the sugar originates. Remembering that your body does not process all sugars in the same way will help you make smart choices.
Rebeca Espinoza writes about health, fitness and weight loss for Spatz Medical, makers of the Spatz3 Adjustable Gastric Balloon. You can find her on Google+ or at firstname.lastname@example.org.