Good Sugar, Bad Sugar: What’s the Difference?

Sara Lovelady Jun 10, 2014

The topic of sugar has been receiving a lot of press lately with the release of the new documentary Fed Up (#fedupmovie). The film reveals some eye-opening facts about America’s favorite food ingredient. For example, of the 600,000 items available in U.S. grocery stores, a shocking 80 percent have added sugar. And since the late 1970s, our national per capita consumption of sugar has doubled.

As Fed Up documents, the overconsumption of sugar is having devastating effects on the health of Americans, who are obese and diabetic at ever-increasing rates. Kids are hit especially hard. This generation of children is the first that is not expected to live as long as the previous one. But is all sugar the same? Is sugar from fruit different than processed sugar?

The short answer is: Yes and no. Sugar can occur in the form of sucrose, glucose, and fructose.

  • Sucrose is the same as table sugar; it’s a 50-50 mix of glucose and fructose. (High-fructose corn syrup, on the other hand, contains 45 percent glucose and 55 percent fructose.)

  • Glucose is the body’s preferred energy source; that’s why blood sugar is also referred to as “blood glucose.”

  • Fructose is the main type of sugar in fruits and vegetables; it’s nearly twice as sweet as sucrose.

Your body breaks down all carbohydrates, including sugar, into glucose. What really matters isn’t what type of sugar you eat, it’s how much you eat and the package it comes in.* The sugar in an apple will not have the same effect on you as the sugar in a doughnut.

What’s the difference? The apple also has fiber, which slows down the absorption of sugar in the gut, so it gives you a nice, level energy release. In addition, it’s packed with health-promoting vitamins, minerals, and phyto-nutrients. The doughnut, on the other hand, is completely bereft of fiber, so the sugar it contains is released rapidly, causing a surge in blood sugar and insulin and setting the stage for pre-diabetes. To make matters worse, the doughnut also contains white flour, which is quickly turned into glucose, adding to the sugar load. (Not to mention the doughnut is also dripping in trans fats from being deep-fried, but that’s a whole other post.)

So how can you tell which sugars are healthy to eat as a regular part of a balanced diet and which you should save for an occasional splurge? The glycemic index!

The glycemic index is a measure of the rate at which blood sugar rises after consuming a particular food. The scale starts at 1 and goes up to 100; the higher the number, the more quickly it causes blood sugar to rise. Foods with a glycemic index (GI) of 70 or more are considered high-GI. These include white bread, white rice, many breakfast cereals, pretzels, bagels, and of course, sugary foods and beverages like candy, cakes, cookies, and soda. Low-GI foods have a GI value of 55 or less. These include meat, poultry, fish, beans, seeds, most whole grains, most vegetables, and many fruits. Medium-GI foods range between 55 and 70 on the glycemic index.

Because Juice Plus+ delivers the whole food nutrition of fresh produce — with almost no sugar or starch (which the body turns into sugar) — it will not appreciably increase blood sugar levels. As a result, it’s not only safe for diabetics, it’s a healthy choice for anyone wanting to get more fruit and vegetable nutrition into their diet.

Are you worried about how much sugar is in your diet? What strategies do you use to reduce the amount of sugar you and your family consume?

* Note from author: Yes, there is some convincing evidence that high-fructose corn syrup is particularly noxious, but the truth is, you want to minimize all types of sugar in your diet…table sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, agave syrup, molasses, coconut palm sugar — all of it!

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