Sugar Rankings: Which Types of Sugar Are the Worst for You?

Registered Dietitian and Lead Nutrition Expert Rene Ficek explains different types of sugar

Not long ago calories were the number one thing to avoid, for a time carbs were the enemy and now it seems that people are becoming more aware of the harmful effects of too much added sugar. While it’s important that people realize why they need to cut down on their sugar intake, there are some misconceptions that need to be cleared up.

One of the biggest fallacies is that all types of sugar are the same. To find out more, we asked Registered Dietitian and Lead Nutrition Expert at Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating Rene Ficek to explain. 

“Excess sugar in the diet is harmful. Too much sugar speeds up the aging process, damages teeth and gums and puts pressure on the liver the same way alcohol does,” said Ficek. Diets consistently high in sugar have also been shown to increase your risk of diabetes, heart disease and some cancers, she added.

While too much sugar can definitely be a bad thing for your health, not all types should be treated the same.

“There are two types of sugar—added sugar, which includes table sugar (sucrose) as well as concentrated sources like fruit juice and then there are naturally occurring sugars found in fruit, vegetables, full fat dairy, honey and unrefined carbohydrates,” said Ficek. “These naturally occurring sugars are valid energy sources and along with the other nutrients in these foods, important for nourishing a healthy body.”

The sugar that’s most often vilified, the kind “in its most processed and refined form (think the white powdery stuff we stir into coffee, or high fructose corn syrup in soft drinks and packaged foods), has absolutely no nutritional value,” said Ficek. “It is completely without vitamins, minerals, protein, fat and enzymes, it’s a source of energy but not nutrition.”

This processed and refined sugar should be consumed sparingly, but it’s not the only type of sugar that should be used in moderation. While honey is a more natural sweetener, Ficek said it will have the same effect on the body as white sugar. 

One sweetener that won’t cause a spike in your blood sugar, according to Ficek, is stevia—an herb that’s much sweeter than sugar. “These sweeteners work well in coffee and tea or sprinkled over fruit, cereal, or yogurt.”

If you think your diet is currently too high in sugar, you shouldn’t try to cut your sugar by 100 percent, Ficek said.

“Eliminating added sugars from the diet is possible (but may be very difficult to do); eliminating all sugars from the diet may end up being harmful to one’s health…The truth is that anything in excess is bad for you, even water. What matters is your overall diet, which requires a balance of proteins, carbs, and fats. You should certainly avoid loading up on Twinkies and soda pop, but replacing real sugar with other sweeteners may not be necessary.”

Ficek doesn’t suggest going cold turkey, even if you’re looking to cut down on added sugar, because that method makes it more likely that you’ll wind up binging at some point. She suggests cutting down slowly instead.

“It is important for everyone to find a balance within their diet and practice moderation. The all-or-nothing approach when it comes to food often fails and sets dieters up for a harmful yo-yo diet cycle.”

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