Natural vs. Refined Sugar: What’s the Difference?

Understanding the Differences Between Natural and Refined Sugar

If you look at natural sugar, like that found in fruit, and the refined sugar found in your baking cabinet, they are technically the same—sweet, tasty, and molecularly identical. So the 19 grams of sugar in an apple aren’t such a far cry from the 20 grams of sugar in a Snickers bar, right? Not even close.

Fiber Makes a Difference

The difference isn’t so much in the sugar itself as what comes with it and how your body processes that sugar because of those additions. If you look closer, the 19 grams of sugar in an apple are paired with almost 20% of your daily dietary fiber, while the 20 grams in the candy bar only come with 3% of your fiber. Why is this important? Mostly because of the glucose that’s present. While insulin doesn’t respond to fructose because it doesn’t break down until it gets to the liver, glucose breaks down in the gut, causing an immediate insulin response to finish it off.

How Your Body Processes Refined Sugar

When sugars aren’t paired with fiber, you get an immediate insulin rise and fall. Not only that, but because of how quickly it passes through the body, you get no sensation of satiety. When food doesn’t make you feel full, you eat more and more of it, and all you’re getting from your candy bar is calories—no vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, nothing.

How Your Body Processes Natural Sugar

On the other hand, when you opt for fruit (or something equally full of natural sugar), the fiber makes your body metabolize it less quickly, creating a slower rise of insulin than its refined counterpart. This slow release gives you more time to naturally get rid of the glucose through physical activity. Plus, you get more bang for your caloric intake: vitamin C, A, magnesium, B vitamins, potassium, and folic acid.

Why This Matters

According to experts, if you’ve been eating a whole bunch of sugar quickly, no matter where it came from, it’s still going to get stored in the body. But, the time it takes for your body to process the fiber-full options means you have a minute to actually feel like you’ve eaten something, making you less likely to eat 10 apples as opposed to 10 candy bars when you’re ravenous.