Who doesn’t like sugar? It’s sweet, makes everything taste good, and pretty much all the food we consume on a daily basis contain some of it. We have all heard that too much sugar can be bad for health, but are all sugars created equal? Is there such a thing as a “good” or “bad” sugar? Let’s find out!
What is sugar?
Before we ask ourselves what can be classified as a good or bad sugar, it’s important to understand what sugar is. Sugars belong to the carbohydrates (carbs) family, which is divided into two groups: simple carbs and complex carbs. The difference between them is not only their size but also the way they are digested and absorbed by the body.
- Simple carbs are simple sugars. Their structure is small, and they are digested and absorbed quickly.
- Among them, monosaccharides (one unit of sugar) include glucose, fructose, and galactose. These are found in honey and (dried) fruits, for example.
- Disaccharides, on the other hand, are composed of two units of sugar and include sucrose (found in table sugar, comes from beetroot or cane) and lactose (which is naturally present in milk and dairy products).
- Complex carbs are medium to long chains of units of sugar.
- One type of complex carb is oligosaccharides, which are made of medium chains of sugars. Examples of oligosaccharides include fibers and inulin, which are present in small quantities in fruits, and in large quantities in other sources like artichokes, onions, wheat, asparagus, legumes… Those are not digested by the body, but fermented in the intestine (aka prebiotics!).
- Another type is polysaccharides, which are long chains of sugars. These are found in food sources such as starches (potatoes, corn, rice) and fibers (in whole foods like bread and pasta; in cereals, pulses…). They are digested and absorbed by your body over longer periods of time.
Now that we understand sugar better, let’s dive into the most common misconceptions surrounding it.
Sugars: Myths vs The truth
- “Sugars are fattening and you should avoid all sugars because they’re bad for you!”
One gram of carbohydrates – and hence sugar – contains 4 kcal. In comparison, one gram of protein contains 4 kcal and one gram of fat contains 9 kcal.
Carbs, and more specifically sugars, have sometimes had a bad press, but this is mostly due to the fact that highly processed products often have a high sugar content (for example carbonated drinks, sugary cereals, candies) or are associated to high fat content, in pastries and cakes for example.
However, the truth is that sugars are essential to a healthy lifestyle. Carbs are one of the three macronutrients your body needs. Sugars are used as fast energy sources because they are quickly broken down and absorbed. This energy is needed to fuel your muscles, brain, and other cells. Of course, balance is primordial: as long as you spend as many calories as you consume, the sugar you have as part of a healthy lifestyle will not cause you to gain weight. Only an excess of calories leads to weight gain.
- “Fruits contain sugar, therefore you should not eat fruits when you’re on a diet.”
There is a difference between the naturally occurring sugars in fruits and vegetables and the added sugar present in highly processed food. Yes, certain fruits and veggies may be high in sugar, but they also come with valuable nutrients (vitamins, minerals, fibers…). That’s why fruits should always have a place in your diet, even when you are trying to lose weight. The secret to a healthy and sustainable diet is to include all the macronutrients your body needs, while making sure your calorie intake is lower than your calorie expenditure. If you would like to find out how many calories you need daily, make sure to check our calorie calculator.
- “This type of sugar is better than the others!”
Some people may think that white sugar should always be replaced by raw sugar. However, your body processes all types of sugar the same way: sugar is broken down, and 1g of sugar always provides you with 4 kcal. The main difference is that using raw sugars, honey, or even fruits like dates or raisins as sweetener, provides you with extra nutrients, which can be beneficial to your health.
- “Products that have a low sugar content are low calorie and therefore good for you.”
Watch out: low sugar content does not always mean low calorie. Like with any other products, you should consume low-sugar products in moderation and keep your diet balanced.
Why choose low-sugar alternatives, then? Products that are low in sugars can have higher contents of other macronutrients while still maintaining a balanced overall calorie content. This is especially true for high-protein products! For instance, our protein bars and snacks have lower sugars content and higher protein content (summing up on average to 200 kcal per serving) than regular cereal bars or snacks. Increasing your protein intake can be valuable, whether you are working out frequently or just want to maintain your wellbeing. If you’d like to learn more about the benefits associated with protein, you can have a look at our learning center.
But how can we have products that are low in sugar and still taste great? The secret is sweeteners. Would you like to know more?
INFO POINT: Sugar vs sweetener
As explained before, one gram of sugar provides 4 kcal. Sugar has a characteristic sweet taste and, when processed by the body, increases blood sugar levels and provides energy.
Sweeteners like sucralose or stevia (this one is extracted from plant), which are considered safe by the European Union, provide a sweet taste but do not provide energy, as they contain no calories. That’s the reason why they are used in numerous products (sports nutrition, weight management…), because they taste sweet without adding any calories.
Sugar has often had a bad reputation, but this is mainly due to misconceptions surrounding it. It has its place in a healthy diet and provides your body with the energy you need. When it comes to your carbohydrates intake, it’s important to favour wholefoods like fresh fruits and veggies which contain a lot of valuable nutrients, and reduce your consumption of highly processed foods. Remember that the key to a healthy diet is balance, and enjoy your food!