Sugar is probably the single worst ingredient that is a part of the modern diet. There has been a growing awareness regarding the harmful effects of sugar owing to its indiscriminate use over the years. The most common form of sugar consumed is the simple sugar—fructose—that can wreak havoc on your metabolism.
Excessive sugar intake can cause elevated levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, insulin resistance and buildup of fat in the abdominal cavity and the liver.[1,2]
However, today we hear all sorts of claims about ‘healthy’ sugar-based sweeteners that have found a permanent spot on supermarket shelves. Where does the problem lie? Well, most of them are just as bad as regular sugar and in some cases, even worse. They are liberally added to different foodstuff and marketed as ‘health foods’.
Let’s take a closer look at the different forms of sugar and sweeteners that are thought to be healthier, but are just as bad.
1) Raw Organic Cane Sugar
Don’t be deceived by the name. You will find many ‘health products’ that are sweetened with raw, organic cane sugar, which is nothing but plain sugar.
Organically grown sugar is still sugar. Whether it’s raw or not, doesn’t make any difference. While the way this sweetener is processed may be different from that of regular sugar, the chemical composition is still the same. Your body can’t tell the difference, and will break down the sugar into glucose and fructose in the digestive tract. This can negatively affect your metabolism.
2) Agave Nectar
A very popular sweetener in the natural health community, agave nectar (also called agave syrup) is seen as a healthy alternative to sugar since it has a low glycemic index.
Glycemic index (GI) can be defined as the potential of a given food to cause a spike in blood sugar levels. Studies show that eating foods with a high glycemic index is unhealthy.[7,8] The ill effects of eating sugar have very little to do with its glycemic index; they’re mostly attributed to its high fructose content. Case in point is agave, which has high fructose content.
Fructose does not cause blood sugar levels or insulin to spike in the short term, but when had regularly, it may lead to insulin resistance. In the long term, it does elevate blood sugar and insulin levels.[9,10] While a short-term spike in blood sugar may not be good, prolonged elevation of blood sugar levels is the perfect recipe for disaster. Regular sugar has about 50 percent fructose while agave has 70 to 90 percent fructose.
3) Brown Sugar
Molasses are a by-product of sugar. At times, when sugar is refined and processed, a small amount of molasses are added back to it. This gives sugar a brownish color and is called brown sugar.
Molasses are made up of 50 percent sugar and a few minerals. Brown sugar is basically just regular sugar that is diluted with a less unhealthy and less concentrated sugar. However, this tiny amount of minerals does not make up for its negative health effects.
4) Evaporated Cane Juice
This is probably the best deception by food manufacturers. Evaporated cane sugar is just a fancy name for regular sugar. The words ‘evaporated’ and ‘juice’ tend to hide the true sugar content from the consumer. When this sweetener reaches the intestine, the body cannot recognize the difference between ‘evaporated juice’ and plain old sugar, and reacts the same way in both cases.
5) Coconut Sugar
Coconut sugar is derived from the sap of the coconut plant. The sugary fluid is extracted from the plant and the water is allowed to evaporate. This sweetener contains a few nutrients and small amounts of fiber while also having a lower glycemic index than regular sugar.
But coconut sugar is very high in fructose. It contains a small amount of free fructose. About 75-80 percent of coconut sugar is sucrose, which is half fructose.
Therefore, the total fructose content of coconut sugar is somewhere around 35-45 percent. Due to the tiny fiber content and its lower fructose content than sugar, you could say that coconut sugar is less unhealthy than regular sugar—the better of the two evils.
The next time you reach for your so-called healthy sugar or sweetener, think again.
1. Stanhope KL, Schwarz JM, Keim NL, et al. Consuming fructose-sweetened, not glucose-sweetened, beverages increases visceral adiposity and lipids and decreases insulin sensitivity in overweight/obese humans. The Journal of Clinical Investigation. 2009;119(5):1322-1334. doi:10.1172/JCI37385.
2. David Faeh, Kaori Minehira, Jean-Marc Schwarz, Raj Periasamy, Seongsoo Park, and Luc Tappy. Effect of Fructose Overfeeding and Fish Oil Administration on Hepatic De Novo Lipogenesis and Insulin Sensitivity in Healthy Men. Diabetes July 2005 54:7 1907-1913; doi:10.2337/diabetes.54.7.1907
3. Stanhope KL, Schwarz JM, Havel PJ. Adverse metabolic effects of dietary fructose: results from the recent epidemiological, clinical, and mechanistic studies. Curr Opin Lipidol. 2013 Jun;24(3):198-206. doi: 10.1097/MOL.0b013e3283613bca. Review. PubMed PMID: 23594708; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4251462.
4. Richard J Johnson, Mark S Segal, Yuri Sautin, Takahiko Nakagawa, Daniel I Feig, Duk-Hee Kang, Michael S Gersch, Steven Benner, and Laura G Sánchez-Lozada Potential role of sugar (fructose) in the epidemic of hypertension, obesity and the metabolic syndrome, diabetes, kidney disease, and cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr October 2007 86: 4 899-906
5. David S Ludwig, Karen E Peterson, Steven L Gortmaker. Relation between consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and childhood obesity: a prospective, observational analysis. The Lancet, Volume 357, Issue 9255, 17 February 2001, Pages 505-508.
6. Teresa T Fung, Vasanti Malik, Kathryn M Rexrode, JoAnn E Manson, Walter C Willett, and Frank B Hu. Sweetened beverage consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in women. Am J Clin Nutr 2009 89: 4 1037-1042; First published online February 11, 2009. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2008.27140
7. David JA Jenkins, Cyril WC Kendall, Livia SA Augustin, Silvia Franceschi, Maryam Hamidi, Augustine Marchie, Alexandra L Jenkins, and Mette Axelsen. Glycemic index: overview of implications in health and disease. Am J Clin Nutr 2002 76: 1 266S-273S
8. David S. Ludwig, Joseph A. Majzoub, Ahmad Al-Zahrani, Gerard E. Dallal, Isaac Blanco, and Susan B. Roberts. High Glycemic Index Foods, Overeating, and Obesity. Pediatrics 1999; 103:3 e26; doi:10.1542/peds.103.3.e2
9. Basciano H, Federico L, Adeli K. Fructose, insulin resistance, and metabolic dyslipidemia. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2005 Feb 21;2(1):5. PubMed PMID: 15723702; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC552336.
10. Sharon S Elliott, Nancy L Keim, Judith S Stern, Karen Teff, and Peter J Havel. Fructose, weight gain, and the insulin resistance syndrome. Am J Clin Nutr 2002 76: 5 911-922
11. Self Nutrition Data. Site: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/sweets/5573/2. (Accessed on 20 October 2015).
12. Kim M, Shin HK. The water-soluble extract of chicory reduces glucose uptake from the perfused jejunum in rats. J Nutr. 1996 Sep;126(9):2236-42. PubMed PMID: 8814212.
13. Purnomo, H.Sugar components of coconut sugar in Indonesia.ASEAN Food Journal 1992 Vol. 7 No. 4 pp. 200-201