Refined vs. Unrefined Sugars

Refined vs. Unrefined Sugars

Cutting back on sugar is a good way to lose weight and protect your health. However, with so many types of sugar present in food, it's difficult to know what you can eat and what you should avoid. Follow these guidelines to make your diet as healthy as possible.

What are refined sugars?

Refined sugars are sugars that have been extracted from whole foods. For example, table sugar is refined from sugar cane or sugar beet, while high-fructose corn syrup is sugar that is extracted from corn. Some people claim that unrefined sugars, which have not been through an extraction process, are healthier than refined sugars. Let's take a look at the evidence.

Which sugars should we avoid?

In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a new recommendation: you should obtain no more than 10 percent of your total calories from free sugars. On a 2000-calorie diet, that's 50 grams of free sugars a day. Cutting back to 25 grams a day could be even better, says WHO.

What are free sugars?

To a large extent, free sugars and refined sugars are the same things; table sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and molasses are all refined sugars. However, even some sugars you might consider unrefined or "natural," such as honey and fruit juice, are also free sugars. If you're cutting down on sugar, you should know replacing table sugar with honey won't protect your health.

Which sugars can we eat?

Sugars that are found naturally in foods such as fruit and milk aren't free sugars, and according to the WHO, there is no evidence these unrefined sugars are bad for you. Your body takes a long time to separate the sugar from the fiber when you eat fruit, and therefore you avoid the big spike in blood sugar that happens when you eat a spoonful of sugar.

Watch out for fruit juice: by extracting the juice from the fibrous part of the fruit, you allow your body to digest it much more quickly. Fruit juice is fine to enjoy as a tasty treat, but it should be limited to no more than one small glass a day.

Understand that a small amount of sugar is unlikely to cause you any harm, but take care not to eat and drink too much sugar. By paying attention to the amount of refined sugars in the processed foods you eat, as well as reducing the amount of sugar and honey you add yourself, you can protect your health. Eat whole fruit if you want a sweet treat: the fiber slows down the sugar absorption, so you'll feel fuller for longer.


About the Author:

Hannah Whiteoak is a professional freelance writer from the United Kingdom. She's been writing full time for roughly 5 years and specializes in science and health topics.