Natural vs Refined Sugar


Refined sugar is a sneaky ingredient found in a considerable amount of foods in a variety of forms. Very few of us can resist the taste of sweet treats, but sugar has addictive properties. Sugar may also lead to a variety of health conditions. Many people believe that all sugar is “bad”, but there are types that have some nutritional benefits when consumed in moderation.

Sugar is a simple carbohydrate that gets converted into glucose and energy in the body. However, the body processes natural and refined sugar differently, and they also affect your overall health in different ways.

In this blog, I will discuss the difference between natural and refined sugars. I will also make suggestions on how to manage your sugar intake to improve your health and overall well-being.

Natural sugar

These are naturally occurring in foods. Fruit and dairy products such as milk and cheese, contain natural sugars. These foods also contain essential nutrients that keep the body healthy and help prevent disease.

Refined sugar

Refined sugar, otherwise known as sucrose, comes from sugar cane which is processed to extract the sugar. Food manufacturers then add this chemically produced sugar to many packaged foods.

Food items that contain refined sugar:

  • Carbonated soft drinks
  • Fruit juice
  • Sports and energy drinks
  • Store-made soups, cereals, salad dressings and oatmeal
  • Dairy-based desserts such as pudding and ice cream
  • Sweets such as gummies or hard candies
  • Baked goods such as biscuits, muffins, and cakes


Metabolism matters

The body metabolizes natural sugar in fruit and milk differently from how it metabolizes refined sugar added to processed foods. The body breaks down refined sugar very quickly, causing blood sugar levels to skyrocket. Since refined sugar gets digested quickly, you don’t feel full after eating, no matter how many calories you consumed. Natural sources of sugar are digested slower than refined sugar and helps you remain full for longer. It also helps keep your metabolism stable.

Effects of Excess Refined Sugar

We eat more refined sugar today than our parents and grandparents did three decades ago, This has resulted in increasing obesity rates among both children and adults. In turn, obesity can lead to certain cancers, including breast, prostate, uterine, colorectal and pancreatic.

Too much refined sugar can also lead to the following:

Type 2 diabetes: Frequently drinking sugar-sweetened beverages can increase your risk of diabetes.

Weight gain: Weight gain is connected to excessive sugar intake. In turn, having excess weight or being obese increases the risk for chronic illnesses such as coronary heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and some forms of cancer.

Fatigue: Refined sugars can lead to spikes in blood sugar levels, which come crashing quickly, making you feel tired. Natural sugars break down slower and keep the blood sugar level more stable.

Cavities: There is a strong link between sugar-sweetened beverages and dental cavities in children and adults.

On the positive side, fruits high in antioxidants—blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries and apples—may actually reduce your risk of diseases. The fibre content in fruit, found mainly in its skin, suppresses your appetite to prevent overeating and weight gain.


  1. Simply add less sugar

For most recipes, you can reduce the amount of sugar by at least 1/4 without noticing a big difference in the taste or texture.

  1. Substitute refined sugar for natural sugar

Try using applesauce, dried fruit puree, mashed banana or dates, to replace some of the sugar in recipes such as biscuits and muffins. Alternatively, you can use natural sweeteners like honey in your cooking and baking.

  1. Use spices and extracts for flavour

Use spices such as cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice to add a kick. Pure extracts such as vanilla, almond or lemon can also pack a punch without adding sugar.

  1. Hydrate

You may think you’re craving sugar, but you could just be dehydrated. Try drinking a glass of water first when you get a sugar craving. Also, limit soft drinks and fruit juices with high sugar intake. At home, I usually make my own juices or jazz up my water by adding sliced strawberries, oranges, lemons or cucumbers.

  1. Do-it-yourself

Purchase unsweetened yoghurts and plant-based milk wherever possible. Add fresh fruit or drizzle a little honey over the yoghurt to give it a touch of sweetness.

  1. Incorporate fruits in your diet

If you crave something sweet after meals, try to include some type of fruit in the mix. Dark chocolate-dipped strawberries, frozen banana halves dipped in yoghurt with a sprinkle of almonds are all healthy and tasty options. I also enjoy baked apple slices with a sprinkle of cinnamon.

  1. Watch out for sneaky condiments

Condiments can have an alarmingly high amount of sugar added to them. When possible, make your own salad dressings, sauces, jams, and spreads so that you can control the sugar.

  1. Always read the labels

It’s important to read food labels so you can spot hidden sugars. Sugar is usually among the first few ingredients listed.

  1. Give your tastebuds a chance to adjust

Once you’ve decreased the amount of sugar in your diet, you might notice that those intense sugar cravings gradually disappear. This is because we are ”retraining” our taste buds to appreciate the natural sweetness of foods.


by Ezette Oosthuizen

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