The Difference Between Refined and Natural Sugars

With all this hype going around about the toxicity of sugar, it can be challenging to know what kinds of food we should allow in our diet. The ongoing battle between "good sugars" and "bad sugars" can be overwhelming and complicated for those of us just beginning this month's sugar-free challenge, so to make things easier take a look at the info below to learn more!

sugar free

Regardless of what shape it takes, sugar in any form is just a simple carbohydrate. Our body uses that sugar by converting it into glucose to use as an energy source. So where does sugar get such a bad wrap? Like most foods out there, sugar is fine in its purest form and in moderation. When that sugar source becomes contaminated by, say, chemicals, then it begins to negatively impact our bodies. That's where the importance of natural versus refined sugars comes into play.

Simple, natural sugars actually contain essential nutrients that help us maintain a healthy lifestyle and help prevent disease. They are found in foods such as fruit, in the form of fructose, and dairy products, where they are referred to as lactose. So what makes an apple so much better for you than a cookie? A big part of it is quantity. An apple contains about 15 grams of natural sugar on average. A chocolate chip cookie has well over 20 grams of refined sugar. Foods that contain natural sugar generally contain a great deal of vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients. Fruit especially is known to combat conditions like heart attacks, strokes, cancers, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and many other diseases. Cookies? Not so much.

>> Read more: 7 Fruits Lower in Sugar


Refined sugar, on the other hand, is found in sugar cane or sugar beets, which are processed in order to extract the sugar. Unlike natural sugar which is referenced as fructose or lactose, refined sugars are commonly called sucrose, which is a combination of glucose and fructose. You will typically find that refined sugar is used in baking: cakes, cookies, muffins, cupcakes, you name it. However, the real issue surfaces when manufactures add chemically produced sugar, or high-fructose corn syrup, to food. This can impact the nutrition (or lack thereof) of foods we wouldn't even suspect of being high in sugar, such as crackers, barbecue sauce and salad dressing. Use caution especially around low-fat or non-fat foods, as refined sugar is added in order to boost the flavor.

Ultimately, when sugar reaches our intestines, it is processed the same, regardless of whether it is natural or refined. However, all that processed food that contains refined sugar adds a lot of calories and very little nutrition to our diets. Even though there is sugar present in fruits and dairy, these foods are packed with vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber that will keep you full longer, and will help you cut back on overeating. Sweets and other processed foods are digested quickly, which makes us think we are hungry. We eat more processed foods to satiate ourselves, and voila! We are over our daily caloric requirements. Sure, an apple might have the same sugar content as a cracker, but we very rarely limit ourselves to just one cracker; our sugar consumption can get out of control really quickly when we expose ourselves to refined substances.


Studies have shown that if we stuff our bodies full of refined sugars, and this leads to obesity, we are more at risk for certain conditions like cancer. However, the sugar and other nutrients found in fruits and dairy actually act as an appetite suppressant, and we are typically content with much less. Cutting out all the sugar from your diet may sound terrifying, but if you start by simply eliminating the refined sugars, you will be well on your way to a happier, healthier life!

Sources: Cancer Treatment Centers of America, SF Gate: Healthy Eating