Sugar is much like salt and gets a bad rap because when we usually think of sugar, we think of the processed, refined kinds that wreak havoc on our bodies when we over-indulge. However, there are many forms and sources of sugar, and not all are equal in terms of quality and nutrition. Different types of sugar get processed somewhat differently in the body. For example, sucrose, maltose and lactose are all broken down in the small intestine, fructose has to be converted in the liver, while glucose (what our bodies use for energy) can be used right away.
Then we have simple and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates (also known as simple sugars) consist of only one or two molecules. For example, sucrose (what we know as table/refined sugar) is simply made up of just one molecule of fructose and one molecule of glucose. Chemical bonds combine these molecules, and the longer the chain, the longer it takes the body to break down, bringing us to complex carbohydrates. Complex carbs and starches are made up of a whole chain of these molecules. They can either be one long single-file chain, or they can also have chains branching out to the sides.
Since complex carbs are slowly broken down, they cause a steadier and more balanced rise in blood sugar levels, whereas simple sugars are more quickly processed, causing a significant spike. This spike then causes more of our blood-sugar regulating hormone, insulin to be secreted. When we constantly bombard our bodies with foods that spike blood sugar levels, it can eventually lead to insulin resistance (Type 2 diabetes). When choosing foods to manage blood sugar levels, it's important to take into consideration the glycemic load, rather than just the glycemic index. The glycemic load offers a much more accurate picture of a food's effect on blood sugar, as it takes into consideration both the glycemic index as well as the carbohydrates present.
Tips to Manage Your Blood Sugar
- Opt for natural sugars and whole grains - Reduce processed foods
- Eat a well-rounded diet including whole grains, good fats, nuts, seeds, legumes, fruit and lots of veggies.
- Incorporate foods that have a positive effect on blood sugar control (i.e. dandelion root, Chaga, onions, garlic, olives, mangoes, bitter melon, artichoke and Jerusalem artichoke)
Now, let's talk natural sugars vs. refined!
As we learned above, what we know as table/white/refined sugar is a simple sugar, which means it gets absorbed into the bloodstream quite quickly. It's also devoid of all other nutrients, so when we eat a lot of this kind of sugar, we are putting a major burden on our bodies without any benefit.
It's important to mention, natural sugars can cause blood sugar issues when overconsumed as well. However, natural sugars are much different than table sugar; they have many other nutrients intact. In fact, some such as maple syrup and honey can provide numerous health benefits. Maple syrup is rich in essential trace minerals manganese and zinc, while honey provides countless benefits from being rich in antioxidants to containing antiseptic properties. That being said, it's always best to ensure you're getting both your honey and maple syrup from reputable sources, ensuring the wellbeing of the bees and trees first (this also ensures you're getting a more nutrient-dense product).
All in all, sugar is not something to be feared but rather enjoyed in its most natural forms as well as in moderation.