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Natural Sugars Are Still Sugars, But Here’s the Important Difference

May 15, 2020

Sugar has come under fire lately. We’ve been told to eat less of it, to lower our sugar intake, for our health because it can have negative effects on our weight and put us at risk for things like cardiovascular disease and cancer. So the bags of plain old granulated sugar have become something many of us try to avoid in our day to day diet. However, at the same time, while white sugar is getting shunned, natural sugars like coconut sugar and honey have gained popularity. Are natural sugars actually healthier than white sugar? They’re often promoted as such but the answer is a bit more complicated. Here is the truth:

Natural Sugars Are Still Sugars, With One Exception

First: What’s the difference between natural sugars and white sugar? White sugar is a processed food. It’s extracted and refined from the juice of either sugar cane or sugar beets. Natural sugars, on the other hand, are not processed. They don’t need to be refined or fiddled with order to consume them. The unfortunate truth is that natural sugars are really no healthier than white sugar. When your body takes in any sugar, whether it’s something natural like maple syrup or just regular granulated sugar, it doesn’t actually know any difference between them and it processes them the exact same way. So whatever effects sugar has on the body are the same regardless of the source. No matter what kind of sugar it is, consuming too much of it can lead to weight gain, premature skin aging, and put you at increased risk for things like heart disease and diabetes.

There’s a small silver lining, though. White sugar is a refined sugar, which means any nutrients it contained before it was made into its end product have been lost. Natural sugars, however, have held onto their nutrients. Coconut sugar contains nutrients like iron, zinc, and calcium, while honey, maple syrup, and molasses. That means you’re getting a little something extra when you eat them, even if they’re still sugar. Natural sugars also offer their own taste. No two honeys taste the same thanks to the different nectars bees collect from an infinite array of flowering plants, while molasses has an unmistakably earthy, almost bitter flavor that can make whatever it touches stand out.

5 Natural Sugars to Try

There are more natural sugars available these days than ever before. For the uninitiated, it can feel daunting to know which to try. These, however, are some of the most common you’ll come across and are well worth exploring.

Honey: Beyond using it to sweeten you tea, try honey in everything from marinades to muffins.

Maple Syrup: It’s classic drizzled on pancakes but maple syrup can add rich, nutty flavor to granola and cake, too.

Coconut Sugar: Coconut sugar is made from the sap of the coconut palm tree and has a caramel-like flavor similar to brown sugar. Try it in everything from banana bread to caramel sauce.

Muscovado Sugar: Muscovado sugar is the unrefined version white sugar. It’s strong and molasses-like in flavor, and makes for a surprising addition in brownies and cookies.

Molasses: While it’s most common in gingerbread, molasses adds deep, earthy sweetness to things like glazed carrots and barbecue sauce, too.

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