We’ve all heard that sugar can be bad for our health, but… don’t fruit and vegetables have sugar? And fruit and vegetables are supposed to be good for us… right?
Yes! Fruit and vegetables do have sugar, but they are still essential for good health. The reason is simple: there are good types of sugar and bad types of sugar. This blog post will attempt to show you how to seek out the good and avoid the bad.
What is sugar?
First, let’s clear up any confusion around what sugar actually is. What some people might not know is that sugar is actually a carbohydrate. In fact, it’s the simplest form of carbohydrate – when our body digests more complex carbohydrates it actually breaks them down into simple sugars (1). Once digested, sugar is absorbed into your bloodstream as glucose, which is the main fuel for your body – whether you’re typing at your computer or running a marathon.
There are many different types of sugar. Several are summarized in the table below, along with their natural sources (2):
*Sucrose is technically found in most plants, but only sugarcane and beetroot provide sufficient quantities for harvesting.
So… what’s wrong with sugar?
The main problem with sugar arises when we consume too much sugar. When our body has enough energy, it stores any extra sugar for later by converting it into fat. Unfortunately, as a society we are consuming way more sugar than ever before – in 1822, Americans consumed ~45 grams of sugar every five days, approximately equal to the amount of sugar in one can of Coca-Cola. In 2012, Americans consumed ~150 grams of sugar every day (3).
Natural Sugar vs. Added Sugar
As a simple rule, good sugar is found in whole, unprocessed foods such as fruit, vegetables, legumes and whole grains (4). Bad sugar is the “added” sugar that we put in our coffee, use in baking and hide in sauces, ready-made meals and sweet drinks like pop (5).
But what makes good sugar good and bad sugar bad?
One answer has to do with the nutrients-per-calorie ratio, i.e. how many nutrients are you getting per calorie? Added sugar comes with a significant amount of calories but relatively no nutrients. Fruit and vegetables, on the other hand, come with less calories and amazing essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, antioxidants and fibre that are vital to our health (6).
The presence of fibre is key, because it slows down the absorption of sugar into our bloodstream. When you consume added sugar, there is nothing to slow this process down. This speedy absorption can lead to an unhealthy spike in your blood sugar (7).
As if the above weren’t enough, added sugar can also contribute to tooth decay, overload your liver and contribute to various diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and even cancer (8). Added sugar can also be highly addictive!
Reasons to avoid processed food extend beyond just added sugar. To learn more about processed food vs. whole, organic food, read our post Why We Should Avoid Processed Food.
Debunking the “Sugar Causes Diabetes” Myth
Many people believe that they should cut out all sugar to prevent or reverse diabetes, including the good kind. But overdosing on sugar doesn’t actually cause Type II Diabetes – excessive sugar intake (from added sugar) contributes to weight gain which is a key contributing factor of this complex disease (9). Because of the plethora of essential nutrients found in fruit and vegetables, consuming a regular amount is crucial in order to both prevent and combat Type II Diabetes* (10).
The best practice for good health is to get your sugar from whole, plant-based food like fruit, vegetables, grains and legumes.
*Everybody is unique so make sure to consult with your doctor.