While refined sugar has gotten some pretty bad press lately (and with good reason), rumour has it that natural sugars are good for you. Things like honey, agave nectar, maple syrup, and dried fruits that are very sweet are being substituted for cane sugar in many recipes and then being promoted as being “sugar-free.”
So what’s the real deal with natural sugars, are they healthier, and what role do they have to play in weight loss?
Sugar vs. natural sugars
Refined sugar has undergone an extraction process where fibre and nutrients are removed, just leaving pure crystalised sugar granules. Natural sugars, as indicated by the name, are found naturally in foods and are not refined. They do contain some nutrients and so are thought to be healthier.
What needs to be taken into consideration is that using natural sugars can still count as added sugar. For example, eating a fresh whole piece of fruit is very healthy. Adding dried fruit which has concentrated sugar levels to baking would count as added sugar.
Too much added sugar, natural or not, is not healthy. Natural sugars will still result in elevated blood sugar levels, which results in higher levels of circulating insulin- one of the hormones associated with weight gain.
Someone consuming high levels of any type of sugar on a frequent basis is at a higher risk of developing impaired glucose tolerance (pre-diabetes) or type 2 diabetes. They are also at higher risk for cancer, and other lifestyle-related diseases.
The best types of natural sugars
The natural sugar lactose which is found in dairy products is healthy. Take milk for example- a great source of protein, calcium, and other important nutrients. Whole fruit, as previously mentioned is another good example. Lots of vitamins and minerals and fibre. Starchy vegetables like potato and sweet potato are healthy as well, with healthy cooking techniques of course (ditch that deep fryer).
Natural sugars and weight loss
Natural sugars are still a concentrated source of calories, healthier though they may be. You might find that honey seems sweeter to you, and you can get away with half a teaspoon in your tea instead of a full teaspoon of regular sugar.
Choosing to include natural sugars in your diet is a better option, but just keep in mind the quantity and frequency. Small amounts now and then are fine but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that because they are healthier that you can use them in abundance.
Try and get your sugar hit from fresh fruit if you can, or work to slowly decrease your total sugar intake over time so that your taste buds become more sensitive to sugar- allowing you to feel that sensation of sweetness in foods that you would have previously found to be bland.
If you want to learn more about the kinds of foods you should choose to eat plenty of and those to enjoy in moderation, consider coming along to one of our weight loss retreats where we run nutrition education workshops. Check out our proven program to find out more.