Sugar, regardless of the form it comes in, is a simple carbohydrate that your body will convert into glucose and use for energy. However the effect on your body and your overall health depends on the type of sugar you are consuming, natural or refined sugar.
Natural sugars are found in fruit as fructose and in dairy products, as lactose. Foods with natural sugar have an important role in your diet because they provide essential nutrients that keep the body healthy and help prevent disease, among many other things. They contain; vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, water, fibre, all that good stuff.
Refined sugar comes from sugar cane or sugar beets, which are processed to extract the sugar. It is typically found as sucrose, which is the combination of glucose and fructose. White and brown sugar are both refined and are often used to sweeten tea, coffee, cereal and cakes. Food manufacturers add refined sugar, to foods and beverages to add flavour, but they also add empty calories. Low-fat foods are often the worst offenders. Sugar obtained from natural sources has greater nutritional value. Milk has protein and fruit has fibre, both contain vitamins and minerals essential for a healthy lifestyle.
Last weekend I was having a conversation with a friend about my nutritional regime, he was asking me what foods I would consider boarder line and which I avoid completely. I said “I try to limit my high GI carbohydrate intake as much as I can and I completely avoid refined sugars.” A lady, apparently a mutual friend but unknown to the pair of us, then decided to rudely enter the conversation and say, “remind me never to hang out with you. Oh and your body uses refined and unrefined sugars in the same way, so….”. I felt like slapping her right then and there. For her lack of manners is not for her ignorance.
She was partially right but obviously hadn’t done sufficient reading to know the full story.
The Full Story
Once the sugar passes through the stomach and the small intestine it reaches the large intestine. At this point it doesn’t matter whether it is refined or unrefined. True, but all the important stuff happens before this point. All that happens when it reaches your large intestine is well, you poop it out. Before that your stomach must first breakdown your food. For something high in fibre (like fruit) it is more difficult to access all the sugars immediately so the digestive tract/enzymes need to work harder to release the sugars.
Your food then passes into your small intestine where amylase from the pancreas is released and the sugar is absorbed. After that the sugars can be transported to cells for metabolism. So by eating sugar sources high in fibre you are reducing the rate of absorption. This prevents insulin and blood sugar levels spiking dramatically like they would with refined sugar (a sugar rush). Because refined sugar is digested quickly, this is also the reason you tend not to feel full after eating them. The fibre in fruit slows down the digestive process, giving you a more gradual release of energy and more stable blood sugar levels. This also means your body has more time to use the glucose as fuel before storing it as fat, hopefully keeping you that little bit leaner.
Get tired at various points throughout your day? Check if you are consuming a lot of refined sugars or high GI carbohydrate. If you are into your health and fitness you might want to consider reducing your consumption of these.
Parting note. David Katz, director of the Prevention Research Centre at Yale University, puts it best: “We actually need sugar; it’s our body’s preferred fuel” just choose you source wisely.
Check out my list of sugary foods that you can enjoy guilt free. Some easy dietary swaps if you will. LIST.