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The Not-so-sweet Facts About Refined Sugar

I’m a sweet lover. I love everything sweet and for years my love of refined, sugary foods had caused many health issues. From body pain to foggy thinking, my love of sweet foods had been to blame.

But over the years I’ve slowly changed my highly processed, high-sugar diet into one full of healthy, whole foods. But, I haven’t removed all sugars. I’ve simply switched my favourite refined sugary treats for better sugars, and my body thanks me every day. Gone are the blood sugar crashes, digestive issues, pain and grumpiness. I can think clearly, I feel great and I get to eat sweet things.

So why is refined sugar so hard on the body? White sugar and high-fructose corn syrup have been stripped of all of their trace minerals the body needs to digest them properly. As a result, they use the body’s nutrient resources to break down these sugars. In particular they steal B vitamins and magnesium from the body…nutrients needed by the adrenal glands to handle and manage stress. Through this adrenal stress, high-sugar intake can increase feelings of anxiety and leave us feeling overwhelmed.

Refined sugar is usually mixed with low-fibre refined flour and this potent combo can cause a spike in your blood sugar, leading to a blood sugar drop a few hours later. A drop in blood sugar ramps up our craving for sweet foods, which creates another spike…and another drop, and so on and so on. Many of our food choices are made during these blood sugar drops, so instead of grabbing a healthy snack we tend to choose something fast, easy and sweet right away. It’s a hard cycle to break, particularly if your first sweet treat is in the morning.

But not all sugars are the same, and whole, unrefined sugar affects the body very differently. Let’s take a look at the different types of sugar:

Refined sugars

White and brown sugar (sugar cane or sugar beet): These sugars have been fully refined and stripped of all nutrients. Brown sugar has been refined as well, but some of the molasses removed in the processing is added back in. Sugar beet is also highly genetically-modified.

High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS): This highly refined sugar is made in a lab behind closed doors. Very few people know how this sugar is processed, and due to its very cheap price it has been added to all sorts of foods; from drinks to yogurts, and seemingly healthy processed foods. HFCS has been linked to weight gain, diabetes and liver issues. Stay away from this sugar!

Agave syrup: Most of the agave syrup on the market is highly refined and very high in fructose. The level of fructose is so high (up to 90 percent fructose) that it can easily cause weight gain and liver issues. This is not a sugar I recommend.

All artificial sweeteners: Research is finding a link between these sugars and metabolic issues. They’ve even been linked to more weight gain then refined sugar! Be especially careful when these sweeteners are added to drinks.

Healthy sweets

Fruit: Our body loves fruit when it’s in its whole form. The fruit’s fibre slows down the release of the naturally occurring fructose and it’s full of vitamins and antioxidants.

Honey: Raw, local honey is a very healthy and healing food. Unprocessed and low in fructose, it won’t cause the liver issues agave and other fructose sugars can. It also has anti-viral properties and is works wonderfully on a stubborn cough.

Maple syrup: This whole sugar is wonderful on oatmeal and other breakfast whole grains, and contains all of the trace minerals needed to be properly digested.

Sucanut (unrefined cane sugar): This is a great substitute in any recipe that calls for white or brown sugar. Same flavour, but unrefined!

Coconut sugar or palm sugar: New on the market and quite popular, this sugar is easy to use in all recipes and won’t cause blood sugar fluctuations.

Life can be sweet! Take a look at your diet and find where you can replace refined sugar with whole sugar. Put sugar in your coffee? Try honey instead. Like brown sugar on your oatmeal? Maple syrup tastes fantastic! You’ll feel better, have steady energy, and you won’t even think about going back to refined sugar.

By Lisa Kilgour, RHN

Lisa Kilgour graduated from the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition (CSNN) with top honours and is a certified CSNN instructor. Lisa has 10 years of experience in health and nutrition and was voted “BC’s Favourite Nutritionist” in 2010.  She joined InspireHealth, which she says is “a wonderful place and an amazing program,” in September. Visit her online at

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