With so many different opinions flying around about sugar these days, how can any of us expect to make the right choices concerning its role in our diet? The key to unravelling this mystery is to start with the science.
Back to basics
What we call ‘sugar’ is in fact a large group of carbohydrate molecules that exist in all living organisms on the planet. From bacteria to humans, there are three different groups of these carbohydrate molecules: monosaccharides, disaccharides and polysaccharides. While all three are extremely important for life on earth, when we talk about sugars in our food, we tend to be only referring to monosaccharides and disaccharides.
Glucose, fructose and galactose are examples of monosaccharides and are typically found in fruit, vegetables and milk. Disaccharides are more complex, and are broken down by digestion and include sucrose, lactose and maltose. Hence the more scientific way of saying ‘sugar is evil’ would be to state that ‘eating too much of the wrong types of monosaccharides and disaccharides can be bad for your health.’
Refined and unrefined sugars are mentioned a lot these days, but these terms can be misleading. A better description perhaps, would be to refer to them as sugar sources. Refined (or processed) sugar sources are those that don’t exist in nature; so for example if you eat a fresh apple, you won’t be consuming any refined sugar!
Know your ‘enemy’
Many products containing refined sugars can rapidly raise your blood sugar levels; this is because they are broken down by the body into glucose quicker. Whilst on the surface there may appear to be little difference between the ‘natural’ glucose found in fruits and the glucose found in refined sugar sources, the role of digestion is crucial1.