Sugar Basics: The differences between natural and refined sugars

Natural sugars, added sugars, refined sugars, processed sugars… what, exactly, do these mean? What’s the difference between them, and how can you differentiate between them? We’re here to clear up any confusion.


The Basics

Sugar is a simple carbohydrate used by our bodies for energy, but the effect sugar has on your body depends on the type of sugar you are consuming. 

Natural sugars are those that naturally occur in food. These types of sugars cannot be manufactured–they exist on their own in their natural states. Refined sugars are the same as processed sugars – these are sugars are manufactured. Lastly, added sugars are any sugars added to food when the food is prepared, made, or manufactured.


More on natural sugars

There are many types of natural sugars, such as lactose, glucose, and fructose, to name a few. Our bodies naturally produce glucose on their own, and our cells are also capable of breaking down glucose by themselves. Any food with carbohydrates, like fruits and vegetables, has glucose. Yes, your vegetables have naturally occurring sugar in them! 

Fructose occurs naturally in fruits and vegetables as well, but is primarily found in fruits. Our livers break down most of the fructose that we consume, but it is harder for our bodies to break down than glucose is. Fructose is tricky because it is not always a natural sugar; it can also be included in processed foods. If you see it on the ingredients list of a processed foods, it is acting as an added sugar. Lastly, lactose is found in dairy products, like milk and cheese. Some other examples of natural sugars are the sugars in honey, stevia, and maple syrup.


More on refined sugars

There are many different kinds of refined sugars. The most common type of refined sugar is cane sugar. Generally speaking, this is what “sugar” refers to. This is also called “table sugar” or “granulated sugar” and is what is commonly used in baking. It’s made from breaking down (refining) sugar cane and sugars beets. Some examples of refined/processed sugars are granulated sugar, confectioners sugar, and brown sugar. 


More on added sugars

Refined sugars are always added sugars. Natural sugars are not always added sugars, but they can be. For example: A piece of fruit, like a nectarine, contains natural sugars (glucose and fructose) but is not an added sugar. On the other hand, honey, a natural sugar, is considered an added sugar when added to foods.

Some names for added sugars in processed foods (look for these on food labels!) include, but are not limited to: anhydrous dextrose, brown sugar, confectioners powdered sugar, corn syrup, fructose, dextrose, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), honey, molasses, maltose, maple syrup, raw sugar, sucrose, sugar, and white granulated sugar. 


Sugar’s impact on your health

Natural sugars metabolize differently than refined sugars. Our bodies rapidly break down refined sugar, which causes insulin and blood sugar levels to spike. Additionally, quick digestion of refined sugars means we do not feel full for as long as we do when consuming food with natural sugars, regardless of how many calories we have consumed. It is usually recommended to eat whole foods low in refined sugars to maintain a healthy weight and to lower your risks for diseases. 


Ketchup: an example

To help sum up the differences, let’s look at tomatoes and ketchup. Tomatoes, by themselves, contain naturally occurring sugars. Ketchup is often made from tomatoes with the addition of cane sugar, so ketchup has both naturally occurring sugars from the tomatoes, and refined sugars from the cane sugar. Ketchup made with honey would include naturally occurring sugars from both the tomatoes and the honey, but the honey would be considered an added sugar, as well.


Summing things up

Many packaged foods have added sugars. This is something to watch out for, as we should aim to limit our consumption of added sugars – particularly those that are also refined sugars. The more cognizant you are of sugars, the more you will start noticing just how widespread they are in food. 

Here’s one last example: Our cilantro and eggplant dips include tomatoes, so they have naturally occurring sugars, but we don’t add any sweeteners or sugars to them. Our products as a whole have no added or refined sugars – we take pride in being a company that does not add sugars to our chips or dips. At Sasya, we believe in making healthy food choices on a consistent basis, and we hope our products can help you in doing so!