Are All Sugars Created Equal?

We all want to know the answer to the million dollar question: Are all sugars created equal? Over the last decade, sugar has become a hot topic of discussion for health food professionals and dieters. In one sense, research suggests that sugar is responsible for dental corrosion, diabetes and even cancer. In the other sense, our entire body’s wellbeing functions on sugar. No wonder there is some confusion!

At the end of the day, some sugars will be better for you than others, depending on what your wellness goals are. If weight loss is the objective, it can be tempting to reach for the zero-calorie processed sugar option at the coffee shop. On the other hand, if gut health is of high concern, research suggests that refined sweeteners may disrupt your body’s natural gut bacteria processes.

What is important, however, is that you understand the differences between the various sugar options and spend some time reading food labels.


Understanding How Sugar Works

There are three major types of carbohydrates that the body relies on: sugar, starch and fiber. All three of these are made from sugar molecules. Sugars such as lactose, sucrose and fructose, only contain a few molecules of sugar. In contrast, starch and fiber are considered complex carbohydrates, often made up of hundreds of sugars. 

While sugar may all look and taste the same, your body actually breaks them down in entirely different ways. According to Livestrong, “Your body uses sugar as its main source of energy and makes it possible for your cells to perform vital functions. Your body obtains sugar by breaking down carbohydrates during digestion.” Pure sugar, the kind you add to coffee and dessert, enters your bloodstream quickly. This might explain the afternoon crash. In contrast, the sugar in foods, such as fruits and vegtables, enter the bloodstream slowly, as it takes the body longer to break down.

Natural Sugar vs. Added Sugar

Specific foods, such as nuts, fruits and vegetables, contain simple sugars. When sugar is naturally found in food, we refer to this as "natural sugar." They come with all of the naturally occurring vitamins, proteins, minerals, proteins, and fibers that these foods have. The major benefit to naturally occurring sugar, is that the presence of fiber slows the absorption of sugar, moderating the impact of overall blood sugar. This doesn't necessarily mean that all processed sugar is bad, however, but should be balanced with naturally occurring sugars when possible. According to, "In 1822, the average American consumed 45 grams of sugar every five days. Today, that’s equal to one can of soda. And today, Americans consume 765 grams of sugar every five days. Why is that? Sugar is in almost every single processed food. The recommended amount is 36.5 grams a day for men and 25 grams a day for women."

While the debate continues on processed sugars vs. natural sugars, what truly matters is how much your body actually uses the sugar and in what form it is delivered to the body. A good rule of thumb is to try avoiding added sugars and forms of sugars like high fructose corn syrup. This type of sugar delivers large quantities of fructose and glucose at one time, not specifying what ratio of glucose to fructose is being used. To get the fuel that your body needs its best to get the purest form of carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables.

The Sugar “Code Names”

Spending some time skimming the backs of nutrition labels is a first step to recognizing sugar’s whereabouts and prominence in the foods we eat. Manufacturers have some sneaky ways to enhance flavors by using code names for sugar that might slip by when you’re glancing over your ingredients before tossing your grocery items into your cart.  If avoiding processed sugar is a primary health goal, here are some of the major code words to avoid in the nutrition labels:

  • Brown-rice syrup
  • Corn sweetener
  • Corn syrup, or corn syrup solids
  • Cane Juice
  • Dehydrated cane juice
  • Dextrin
  • Dextrose
  • Fructose
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • Glucose
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Invert sugar
  • Lactose
  • Maltodextrin
  • Malt syrup
  • Maltose
  • Mannitol
  • Maple syrup
  • Molasses
  • Raw sugar
  • Rice Syrup
  • Saccharose
  • Sorbitol
  • Sorghum or sorghum syrup
  • Sucrose
  • Syrup
  • Treacle
  • Turbinado Sugar
  • Xylose

Our first recommendation would be to spend some time searching online for a list of other terms and phrases so they don’t slip by at your next trip to the grocery store. If something seems unclear, check with your primary physician or nutritionist.


Sugar: The Takeaway

As with anything, all in moderation. Breaking up with sugar completely is not an easy task, if not outright impossible.  Try to begin by adhering to fruits and vegetables to satisfy those sweet cravings. When you are stuck in that afternoon lull and need that “Oh my gosh, I’m never going to make it until 5 o’clock” moment, cruise out around NYC and find your nearest Pure Green! Cold-pressed juice as an afternoon pick-me-up can bring your sleepy eyes to wide awake in no time.

Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be summer to enjoy a watermelon cold-pressed beverage to reap all the vitamin-packed benefits.  You can be the office hero by bringing the flavor of summertime back to the office, even in the dead of winter. Cold watermelon juice with a splash of lemon is a healthy snack or drink choice that can beat the heat of that 4 p.m. presentation.  Natural sugars will help you get through the mornings, the afternoons, and snack times. Juices made with organic veggies and fruits are a much bigger yes over that can of sugary soda you were going to waste a dollar on. Nutrition doesn’t have to be boring. Sugar doesn’t have to be your number one enemy if you make the healthy choices with organically grown fruits and vegetables.

Megan Partridge