By Kris Gunnars |
“Sugar scares me.” – Dr. Lewis Cantley, Cancer Researcher
Added sugar is the single worst ingredient in the modern diet.
Awareness of its harmful effects has increased dramatically in the past few years.
Despite what some people would have you believe, empty calories are just the tip of the iceberg.
Sugar, due to its high amount of the simple sugar fructose, can wreak havoc on your metabolism.
Consumed in excess, it causes high cholesterol and triglycerides, insulin resistance and fat buildup in the liver and abdominal cavity… in as little as 10 weeks (1, 2).
Added sugar (and its evil twin… high fructose corn syrup) is believed to be a key driver of some of the world’s leading killers… including obesity, diabetes, heart disease and even cancer (3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9).
But today… there are all sorts of “healthy” sugar-based sweeteners on the market.
The problem with many of them, is that they are just as bad as regular sugar.
In some cases, these healthy sugars are even worse… and they are added liberally to all sorts of foods that are then marketed as “health foods.”
Here are 6 “healthy” sugars that are actually very harmful.
1. Agave Nectar
Agave nectar (often called Agave syrup) is a very popular sweetener in the natural health community.
This sweetener is touted as a healthy alternative to sugar because it has a low glycemic index.
The glycemic index (GI) is the potential of foods to lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar. Some studies show that eating a lot of high GI foods is unhealthy (10, 11).
But the harmful effects of sugar have very little to do with the glycemic index and everything to do with the large amount of fructose… and Agave is high in fructose.
Fructose doesn’t raise blood sugar or insulin in the short term, but when consumed in high amounts it leads to insulin resistance… a long-term effect that will chronically elevate blood sugar and insulin levels (12, 13).
Having blood sugars go up for a short time isn’t that bad, but having them chronically elevated (high all the time) is a recipe for disaster.
For this reason… the fructose content of sugar is a much bigger problem than its glycemic index. Regular sugar is about 50% fructose, while Agave is about 70-90% fructose.
Gram for gram, agave nectar is actually much, much worse than regular sugar.
2. Raw Organic Cane Sugar
I see a lot of “health products” sweetened with raw, organic cane sugar.
Do not let the name deceive you… this is just sugar.
Organically grown sugar is still sugar and whether it is “raw” or not doesn’t make any difference.
The way this sweetener is processed may be different from the “regular” sugar you find on the supermarket shelves, but the chemical composition is exactly the same.
Most importantly, your body won’t recognize the difference. It will break the sugar down into glucose and fructose in the digestive tract and it will have the exact same effects on your metabolism.
For all intents and purposes, raw, organic cane sugar is completely identical to regular sugar.
3. Evaporated Cane Juice
I often see “evaporated cane juice” on processed food labels.
Don’t be fooled by the name… evaporated cane juice is just a fancy name for sugar.
This is plain deception by the food manufacturers, done in order to hide the true sugar content of foods from the consumer.
Really… if you see “evaporated” and “juice” in the same word on an ingredients label, it should make you wonder what else the manufacturer is trying to hide from you.
When the sweetener reaches your intestine and liver, your body won’t recognize any difference between “evaporated juice” and plain old sugar or high fructose corn syrup.
4. Brown Sugar
When sugar is made, molasses form as a by-product.
Sometimes, after the sugar has been refined and processed, small amounts of molasses are added back into it.
This gives the sugar a brown color and it is then called brown sugar.
Molasses are about 50% sugar, but they also contain a small amounts of minerals (14).
Put simply, brown sugar is regular sugar diluted with a slightly less unhealthy, less concentrated sugar.
The tiny amount of minerals does NOT make up for the other negative health effects.
5. Coconut Sugar
Coconut sugar is derived from the sap (sugary circulating fluid) of the coconut plant.
The manufacturing method is very natural… it simply involves extracting the sugary fluid, then allowing the water to evaporate.
Coconut sugar contains a small amount of fiber and a few nutrients, while also having a lower glycemic index than regular sugar (15, 16).
But again… the glycemic index is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the harmful effects of sugar. What really matters is whether this product is high in fructose or not.
Coconut sugar is actually very high in fructose. It contains a small amount of free fructose, but 75-80% of it is sucrose, which is half fructose (17).
Therefore, the total fructose content of coconut sugar is somewhere around 35-45%, give or take.
Due to the slightly smaller amount of fructose than sugar, and the tiny amounts of fiber and nutrients, you could say that coconut sugar is less unhealthy than regular sugar, gram for gram.
However… being “less unhealthy” than sugar does NOT make it healthy.
Honey contains some nutrients… including antioxidants and trace amounts of vitamins and minerals (18).
It is about 80% sugar, by weight (19).
That being said, several studies have compared honey and plain sugar and noted that honey had slightly less harmful effects on metabolism (20, 21).
Like coconut sugar, honey is “less bad” than regular sugar.
But again… being less bad than sugar doesn’t make it good.
If you’re healthy, having some quality honey in moderation is probably fine. It is definitely a better choice than plain sugar or high fructose corn syrup.
But honey is not a harmless sweetener and certainly won’t help you lose weight, like some people would have you believe.
Take Home Message
All the sugar you eat will go down to your intestine, get broken down into glucose and fructose and eventually reach the liver. Your liver does not know (or care) whether the sugar you eat is organic or not.