The Guide to Sugars: The Good, Bad, & Ugly

The Guide to Sugars: The Good, Bad, & Ugly

guide to sugars good, bad, and the ugly infographic

Wait, there are good sugars?

Turns out, sugar isn’t as cut and dry as some would have you believe! So, what’s the scoop? 

Sugar is one of those tricky things that our bodies need to survive, but having it in excess can make managing weight and health significantly harder. It’s not always easy to put it down or cut it out of our diet completely because it causes a release of dopamine in our brains, the chemical response that makes us feel good and happy. It can cause negative effects on a number of areas in our bodies including our teeth, causing inflammation in joints and skin, increase of heart risks, and more! Yet, it is a part of keeping a balanced diet. It’s not that you should never have sugar and enjoy a loved treat ever again, just that sugar intake should be limited as much as possible! It can be hard to differentiate the “good” sugars from the “bad” because there’s so much advice and discourse in the media and in our daily lives, signals have become entirely mixed! That’s why we wanted to help set the record straight on sugar: the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s important to understand that there are several kinds of sugars, and each type has a different effect on your health and body. This guide goes over the types, examples, and how to manage them in your diet for a happier, healthier you! For starters, the type of sugar that causes many of us problems is the “free sugars” that are added to food and drink. These come in many forms that consumers should well understand to prevent overconsumption. Some sugars, like those found naturally in things like milk, fruits, and vegetables, are good for our health and should not be limited, but free sugars are a unique case. Here are some important distinctions of free sugars:

natural sugars

Image by Bermix Studio

The Good

“Good” is a relative term here, because even these sugars are not great for your health if ingested in excess. These are still considered free sugars, but are naturally occurring and many of these types of sugar also contain essential trace vitamins and minerals! Natural, relatively unprocessed sugars include honey, dates, maple syrup, coconut sugar, and maple sugar. Try substituting some of the sugar in your coffee or other recipes at home with this list of options! If you have the opportunity, stick to sugar that occurs in food naturally without being processed. These types of sugars have more nutrients and fiber while tending to be low in glycemic load! So, things like fruits are a significant source of this natural sugar that can satisfy any craving while taking care of your health! 


processed sugar

Image by Sharon McCutcheon

The Bad

Typically, cane sugar is what is most commonly added to a number of foods and drinks we see and ingest on a daily basis. Cane sugar is processed in a variety of ways that all have different effects on our bodies, and it mostly comes down to the amount of molasses in the sugar itself. These types of sugars do contain trace amounts of minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants, but do not contribute to health aside from calories from the sucrose. It’s good to be aware of these numerous types of sugars so that you can better manage how much you ingest! Depending on its level of processing, these types of sugars have been found to increase blood sugars, insulin levels, increase inflammation, and lead to a greater cardiovascular risk when overindulged. 

Unrefined Sugars

Unrefined sugars are not totally unrefined, but are sugars with the least amount of refinement available in stores. These sugars maintain the original cane molasses, which gives the sugar a stronger flavor and the darker brown coloring. Examples of unrefined sugars include whole cane sugar, Sucanat, pure cane syrup, Rupadura, and more! 

Raw Sugars

Raw sugars are what is left behind after the removal of most of the natural molasses. These sugars and syrups are a bit lighter with reduced flavoring. Examples include Demerara, evaporated cane juice, Turbinado, and Sugar in the Raw. 

Refined Sugars

Refined sugars are sugars that have had all the natural molasses removed and may have even undergone a process of bleaching to have a white coloration. These types of sugars are what most of us think of when thinking of sugar and is used in household baking and sweetening on a daily basis. Refined sugars include table sugar, confectionar’s sugar or powdered sugar, sugar cubes, and more. Stevia is the bridge between refined sugar and an artificial sweetener and is the only low-calorie artificial sweetener approved by the FDA. Though it comes from naturally occurring compounds in plants, it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. This will be further explained in the next section. 

For more information on differentiating these types of sugars and the levels of processing they all undergo, there are a number of articles by Adriane Campos What Sugar that go in depth about everything! 

artificial sweeteners

Image by Harvard Health 

The Ugly

Finally, we cannot talk about types of sugars and how they impact our health without mentioning artificial sweeteners. It may sound like a dream-come-true for people struggling to kick their sweet-tooth and losing weight to find a sweetening option with no calories, but that dream may be too good to be true. Understanding artificial sweeteners means not just looking at how they can help people lose weight by reducing caloric-intake related to sugars. The FDA has only approved five artificial sweeteners including saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose. There are many concerns about artificial sweeteners by consumers and researchers alike, one being that these sweeteners change the way we interact with food through taste. Artificial sweeteners trigger the same neurological responses in our brains as if we were ingesting sugar, but very little sweetener is needed because of its high potency. Essentially, it can be incredibly easy-to-use way too much artificial sweetener and cause our taste and tolerance to become hyper-stimulated. Using too much can make food taste lackluster not because you’re adding too much sweetness, but because the brain has become used to being stimulated at a higher rate with the artificial sweetener. People that use artificial sweeteners often have been found to view important food groups like fruits and vegetables unappealing or impossible to eat because their brain has been rewired for more complex tastes. Probably the most dangerous concern is their inclination as addictive substances in lab studies. Though artificial sweeteners are considered safe under FDA guidelines, it’s worth knowing the risks associated with replacing your sugar content with these calorie-free alternatives. 

Sugar is an important part of maintaining a healthy diet, and many of our favorite foods are made using a variety of sugars. That does not mean its something we should be eating a lot of, and by knowing some of the types and how they affect our bodies, we can better manage sugar in our daily lives. 

We hope you enjoy this article about Sugar: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. If you tried incorporating these things into your regular routine, make sure to let us know! For more recipes, follow us on social media and make sure to check out our weekly blog posts where we share our new favorite recipes and must-know facts about food and living a healthy lifestyle! Check out the other meal options Mealfit provides such as our Weekly Specials, Individual Meals, and other Meals by the Pound.

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