Apart from a few exceptions such as water, unsweetened tea, coffee, and other drinks and foods, sugar is in almost everything that we consume today. While we cannot deny that it makes things taste better, not all sugars are made the same and some sugars are indeed worse than others.
If you have been trying to eat a healthier diet then you may have come across the term bad sugar in your research. In this article we will explain the differences between good sugar and bad sugar, give answers to popular questions such as ‘why is sugar bad for you?’, ‘how much sugar is bad for you?’ and hopefully give you a better understanding of the good sugar vs bad sugar debate.
Good Sugar Bad Sugar: What Does It All Mean?
Before explaining what bad sugar and good sugar means, we must first determine the different types of sugars that we encounter daily in our lives. While you might think that we only have two types of sugar in truth we actually have about three different types and they are as follows:
- Natural sugars. This is the type that is found in whole foods such as fruits, some vegetables and in dairy products. In fruits and vegetables, these natural sugars are known as fructose while in milk and other dairy products they are known as lactose. Foods with naturally occurring sugars are also high in fiber or protein, minerals and vitamins.
- Modified natural sugars. As the name suggests these are natural sugars that go through a slight modification process that helps make them good enough for human consumption. Like natural sugars, these modified ones also contain some minerals and vitamins. While these are better than highly refined sugars, they still fall short of good sugars and should be consumed moderately, if at all.
- ‘Fake’ aka processed sugars. Because they are highly processed, these types have been stripped of all their vitamins and minerals and thus have no health benefits and add no nutritional value to your diet. They contain high fructose levels and are quite hard to process once ingested.
So, What Is Good Or Bad Sugar And What Are Some Examples?
Good sugar in this case is natural sugar – the type found in unprocessed fruits, vegetables, and milk. These natural good sugars are said to be better for you and your health because the foods that contain them also have nutrients that keep your body healthy, provide fast yet stable energy, and keep your metabolism stable.
Fruits and vegetables – which have natural sugars – supply you with dietary fiber, which is linked to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and obesity. They also supply vitamins and minerals to the diet and are sources of phytochemicals that function as antioxidants, phytoestrogens, and anti-inflammatory agents and through other protective mechanisms (8).
Milk, which is also a good source of such sugars as well as protein, is good for you as it may help improve body composition and even facilitate weight loss, especially with restriction of calorie intake. A study done in 2016 also linked milk to the reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, particularly stroke (9).
Some good sugar examples include fruits such as grapes, strawberries, apples, kiwi, bananas, etc.
Bad sugar is also known as refined or added sugar. According to the American Heart Association, these types of sugars can be defined as any sugars or caloric sweeteners that are added to foods or beverages during processing or preparation. Bad sugar can be found in almost all processed foods from cereal, baked goods, sodas, fruit juices, ketchup and more.
Since it comes in different names it can be hard to spot but some bad sugar examples that you should watch out for include sugar, molasses, corn sweetener and syrup, brown, invert, malt or raw sugar, sucrose, trehalose, and more.
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Is Fruit Sugar Good Or Bad For You?
As seen above, sugar can be pretty bad for you and can lead to some very serious side effects; but does this also include the sugar found in fruits? Some people think that it does but in truth this is a misconception and fruit sugar is actually not bad for you.
Many fad diets have tried convincing people looking to lose weight that they should stop eating fruit because the fructose found in them will cause them to fall sick or lose weight. While it is true that a high intake of fructose can lead to issues such as:
- Heart disease due to the increased levels of VLDL cholesterol (1, 7)
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease as it can lead to fat deposition in the liver (6)
- Obesity and type II diabetes due to insulin resistance, leptin resistance and overeating (4, 2, 5, 10)
Etc. These issues are linked to high intake of fructose from refined and added sugars, not fruit. Fruit does not contain nearly enough levels of fructose to cause any of the above issues, plus the fructose in fruit comes with fiber and vitamins and minerals which change the equation.
Why Do I Feel Bad After Eating Sugar?
If you have recently consumed too much sugar and are now feeling bad, then you might be experiencing some signs and symptoms of a ‘sugar hangover.’ A sugar hangover can feel just as bad as an alcohol hangover and its symptoms include:
- Fatigue or lightheadedness
- An upset stomach or nausea
- Mood swings
According to self.com and livestrong.com, this horrible feeling is as a result of a sugar overload which leads to a concentration of glucose in the body causing an imbalance. A high concentration of bad sugar in the body causes the pancreas to release a huge amount of insulin to the bloodstream and forces the liver to work harder to process it.
If you keep this up, a sugar hangover will not be your only problem. Instead the excess amount of insulin in your bloodstream could lead to insulin resistance which leads to Type II diabetes (11), and weight gain or even obesity because the liver processes the extra sugar and turns it into fat which is stored in the body (3).
Why Is Added Sugar Bad For You?
If you are wondering ‘why is refined sugar bad for you?’, it is because it has been known to increase your risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. As if this wasn’t bad enough, diets high in bad sugar have also been linked to a higher likelihood of depression, dementia, liver disease, and certain types of cancer.
Are Bad Sugar Substitutes Actually Healthy For You?
If you are willing to give up added sugars but are not willing to suffer through tasteless drinks before your taste buds adjust, you might be considering getting sugar alternatives. Bad sugar substitutes such as stevia, agave, xylitol, erythritol, etc., have long been seen as healthier alternatives that anyone on a sugar free diet or a weight loss journey can use instead.
While such alternatives have been approved and are used by many, one 2011 review stated that they may not be as healthy as we all think they are. Over the years, these sugar alternatives have raised controversy in the scientific community because some studies done on both animals and humans have shown that these sugar alternatives might (12):
- Increase the risk of certain cancers such as bladder cancer
- Cause weight gain and obesity as they can trigger increased food intake and increased adiposity
- Increase the risk of brain tumors
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Is Sugar Bad For Skin?
Yes, it is. Sugar damages the collagen and elasticity in your skin as well as blocks the natural antioxidant enzymes in the skin. Not only does this leave your face vulnerable to environmental assailants such as pollution, but it also causes the skin to stiffen and dry which leaves you with fine lines, sagging and wrinkles.
This, however, is not the only bad side effect of this sweetener. When taken in excess, it may increase your risk of dying from heart disease due to higher blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain, diabetes, and fatty liver disease. It can also lead to tooth decay, type 2 diabetes (over time), and acne.
The Bottom Line
Refined or added sugar is not good for your health. Over and over again, research has shown the damage that it causes to our bodies and overall health. To limit the damage caused by this sweetener, start by slowly reducing the amount you consume until you eventually wean yourself off it and you are only left with the good, natural sugars in your diet.
Sticking to a healthy diet based on your health needs, allergies and preferences is a great idea, however, when combined with a workout plan that meets your goals, it might bring you significant benefits. Better mood, stronger muscles and endurance are just some.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any medical conditions. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Consuming fructose-sweetened, not glucose-sweetened, beverages increases visceral adiposity and lipids and decreases insulin sensitivity in overweight/obese humans (2009, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Effects of fructose vs glucose on regional cerebral blood flow in brain regions involved with appetite and reward pathways (2013, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- From Sugar to Fat (2011, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Fructose, but not glucose, impairs insulin signaling in the three major insulin-sensitive tissues (2016, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Fructose-induced leptin resistance exacerbates weight gain in response to subsequent high-fat feeding (2008, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Fructose consumption as a risk factor for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (2008, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Fructose overconsumption causes dyslipidemia and ectopic lipid deposition in healthy subjects with and without a family history of type 2 diabetes (2009, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Health Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables (2012, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Milk and dairy products: good or bad for human health? An assessment of the totality of scientific evidence (2016, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Prevention and reversal of diet-induced leptin resistance with a sugar-free diet despite high fat content (2011, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Researchers identify cause of insulin resistance in type 2 diabetics (2016, sciencedaily.com)
- Sugar substitutes: Health controversy over perceived benefits (2011, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)