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What You Need to Know About Natural Sugars

What You Need to Know About Natural Sugars

The increasing research and exposure surrounding the impact of sugar on the body has many people becoming more and more aware of their sugar intake.  Whether that necessitates the need to cut back, pay attention, or drop sugar altogether, there is a wide range of options regarding manifesting the best outcome for you and your body.  What is often neglected however is where natural sugars fit. 

What are natural sugars?

Natural sugars are those which are found in foods in nature and are naturally occurring - not added in at any point during the production or growth of the food.  They occur in any carbohydrate-based food. While we may predominately think of fruit as being the biggest source of natural sugars, vegetables such as sweet potato, carrots and peas have natural sugars, and all grains and simple and complex carbohydrates do as well.

The difference between natural sugars and added sugars is that the former are always low glycaemic and slow to digest in our body, acting to actually provide long-term energy.  They are combined with fibre and other nutrients, and as such are part of the complex and unique nutritional profile that makes up each whole food.

How do they affect my health?

When natural sugars are left in their natural form, and consumed within reasonable serving sizes and amounts, they have a lot of health benefits for the body.  As mentioned above, the sugar is combined with fibre and nutrients, meaning the food which contains the sugar can offer us a complex and complete nutrition source and be part of a healthy food selection.  Fibre helps enhance satiety, creates fullness and helps facilitate proper digestion and elimination. These naturally occurring sugars are also an efficient source of energy for the body.  The important thing to remember however is that altering these sugars from their natural form – i.e. turning the apples into juice instead of eating the apple whole – makes them far less nutritionally superior and then causes the sugar in the food to be more of a problem for the body and for one’s health. 

Should I get rid of them?

Given that foods with natural sugar can be highly nutritious, and we should indeed eat lots of them (think vegetables!), for many people, eliminating sugar does not need to go as far as eliminating natural sugar foods as well.  Instead, continue to consume these foods in their natural form, and focus simply on eliminating foods with added sugar.  The body requires a certain amount of sugar to help regulate blood glucose levels and once you eliminate added sugars, your body will become quite good at taking in the amount of sugar it needs from natural sources only.

While the sugar debate may be confusing and come with many opinions, naturally occurring sugars, and the nutrient profile of the food they are found in, are in a category all their own.  Before you eliminate these foods because of their sugar, take some time to understand how these foods could be benefiting you and focus on getting rid of processed sugar first.

By: Laura Peill, RHN, BScH –  Viand Nutrition

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