Refined or processed sugar can be found in many different food products. It is most commonly known as table sugar, but comes in several forms such as high fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, glucose, sucrose, fructose or icing sugar. The details of processing are to in depth for this short article, however they reduce the plant (sugar cane, beets) to its most refined form and some experts have likened this process to that of the production of cocaine or heroin; both from plants and harmless to the body unless processed into their drug form. Refined sugar alters brain chemistry and may also share the addictive nature of these compounds.
The major effects that refined sugar has on health include immune system depression, attention deficit disorders, insulin resistance, obesity, depression, fatigue and mood swings.
The difference between simple (refined sugars) and complex sugars (from fruit) in the body comes down to the way they are metabolized or used. Simple sugars are made of only one or two sugar molecules and are easier for the body to absorb and are taken rapidly into the bloodstream causing a spike in the insulin response and are used immediately for energy. The leftover sugars that are not needed at that time for energy are converted to fat and stored in areas like the abdomen, hips or buttocks. The energy created using refined sugars only lasts for short bursts causing what is known as a ‘sugar crash.’ Complex sugars on the other hand are made up of many sugar molecules making it harder for the body to separate and absorb each molecule. This in turn leads to more energy being used for the absorption of the sugars and a slower surge of energy leading to lasting vitality and the absence of a sugar spike in the blood and a crash or fatigue. Refined sugars also have a major impact on our immune systems, leading to lower immune function, autoimmune conditions and harmful inflammation.
There are many alternatives to refined sugars and chemical sweeteners that are minimally processed from natural sources and have a lower glycemic index meaning they do not create the same blood glucose spike. Sucanat comes from dehydrated sugar cane and contains all of the vitamins, minerals and molasses content found in sugar cane unlike processed white or brown sugars. Other alternatives that are higher in vitamins, minerals and amino acids include agave nectar, unpasteurized local honey, coconut sugar and 100% pure maple syrup.
Getting refined sugar out of the diet leads to less sugar cravings, better energy and increased mood – along with all of the other previously mentioned health benefits. Don’t believe that something so 'simple' can have such a profound effect? Give it a try for one month – remove simple sugars from your diet and once the sugar cravings subside you will be shocked at how much better you feel and you will never go back. It is important to note that you should always read labels as refined sugar has been extensively used and is hidden in many foods under several clever names.