Refined sugar and its chemical analogs are the prominent sources of the United States’ collective sweet tooth.
Refined sugar has become implanted into the average American’s diet, so much so that the average American ingests 80 grams, or 20 teaspoons, of the stuff every day. As our collective refined sugar intake rises, scientists are arguing that it’s a catalyst to major diseases. Let’s dig into the fight of the decade: natural sugar vs refined sugar.
Our bodies aren’t equipped to handle and process this amount of sugar. Our not-so-recent ancestors only had access to sugar when the fruits were ripe, or were rich enough to import sugar cane. However, these natural sources of unrefined sugars aren’t nearly as bad for you as highly processed sugars. When you eat an apple, the skin and meat expands in your stomach during the digestive process causing you to feel full and satisfied, instead of hungry. Additionally, sugars derived from natural sources, like fruit, provide fiber, minerals, and other nutrients. With refined sugar, the opposite occurs. High fructose corn syrup and refined sugars actually suppress feelings of fullness, causing people to overeat. It’s pretty unlikely someone will eat 4 apples back to back, the whole bag of cookies is another thing.
Natural Sugar Vs Refined Sugar
High fructose corn syrup been vilified more than sugar in both the natural health industry and the mainstream media. While food and beverages sweetened with natural sugar are seen as “healthier” than those sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. Unsurprisingly, the sugar and high fructose corn industries have been at each other’s throats on this topic for awhile, claiming they misrepresented each other in advertisements. Just last November, after years of being in court, the two industries came to an agreement off the books. The FDA on the other hand sees sugar in all its various forms as essentially the same, no matter where the sugar originally was derived from.
So, what is the difference between sugar and high fructose corn syrup?
Sugar, chemically speaking, is simply sucrose, a disaccharide composed of one glucose molecule and one fructose molecule bonded to each other. This means that table sugar is always a 50/50 mixture of glucose and fructose. High fructose corn syrup is actually similarly balanced, contrary to popular belief. Most of the HFCS you eat are either HFCS-42, which is 42% fructose, and HFCS-55 which is 55% fructose. The term “high fructose” corn syrup comes from the fact that normal corn syrup has 0% fructose, so its “high” for corn syrup. The main difference is that the fructose and glucose in HFCS exist primarily in their free monosaccharide form, instead of as the disaccharide sucrose as in table sugar. Given the similarities between the two sweeteners, it should come as no surprise that HFCS does not have significantly different metabolic effects from sugar. In essence, they’re the same.
But what about GMO’s?
GMO varieties of corn and sugar beets are widely consumed and processed in the US, especially corn. Given the chemical similarities between the two, you’re probably better off finding some organic non-GMO sugar.
Refined sugar and other sweeteners—including high-fructose corn syrup and other added sugars with the suffix -ose—offer only calories and no nutritional value. Labeled “empty calories,” however, experts say sugar calories aren’t empty and do more harm to the human body than once realized. They’re energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods. This essentially means they provide a lot of energy but little to nothing else the body needs. Additionally, if you don’t burn that energy off, your body turns it to fat.
The tricky part of limiting your sugar intake is the fact that added sugar is found in many, many products in the US. Added sugar can be found in a variety of surprising foods such as pasta sauces, bread, nut butters, salad dressings, frozen meals, protein powder, “all natural” fruit juice, and even granola *gasp*. Be wary when you’re walking down the grocery aisle, added sugars can add up quickly.
being said, sugar and high fructose corn syrup aren’t toxins, a little here and there isn’t the worst thing in the world. But if you want some sweets, eat an apple. If the apple won’t cut it, don’t stress. Sugar and high fructose corn syrup won’t kill you, but they definitely aren’t good for you either.