There is so much pseudoscience surrounding sugar at the moment, with “influencers” and celebrities touting maple syrup, honey and agave as “natural” and “unrefined”, and claiming that they are “healthier” than traditional sources of sugar. (Too many “”?!). Although these claims lack scientific backing, people still fall into the trap. So get ready for some myth busting!
Some claims I’ve seen:
Unrefined or natural sugars are healthier.
Unrefined or natural sugars have additional benefits (E.G. contain more minerals and vitamins).
Traditional sugars contain “chemicals” and we must “detox” from them.
Why these claims are false:
Our bodies don’t see maple syrup and caster sugar differently- both are almost entirely glucose (simple sugar) and that is what your body sees, it cannot differentiate by source.
Glucose from any source is useful, as it provides readily available energy and is the only form of energy our brain can use (i.e. our brain can’t break down bigger molecules into glucose).
The level of micronutrients present in maple syrup/honey/agave is tiny, so we would have to eat LOADS to consume these nutrients in amounts that would affect our diet. For example, 60ml (1/4 cup) of maple syrup contains all your daily manganese (around 2mg), but is basically completely sugar. However manganese can also be obtained through brown rice, toasted wholemeal bread, shredded wheat, chickpeas, kale, Quorn, blackberries, nuts, seeds and tea- these foods are much easier to incorporate into a healthy, diet than 60ml of maple syrup! These foods are also rich in fibre and a host of other nutrients, while maple syrup is limited in its nutritional content.
You don’t need to detox from “refined” sugar or anything else- Firstly, you never need to detox, your body is constantly doing that itself (via lungs and kidneys!) and it does a pretty great job without teas or pills. Products claiming to “detox” are the epitome of nutribollox. Also, humans have an innate preference for sweetness (remember glucose=brain fuel!). There is no reason you should quit sugar, unless advised by a clinician for medical reasons. What’s more, if you were truly quitting sugar you would not consume maple syrup/honey/agave etc, because they are just sugar with better marketing (and a bigger price tag!)
All forms of sugar mentioned here are called added or free sugars- i.e. they are added to foods and are not bound inside the cells of foods, as fructose is in fruit. This means that they cause a spike in blood sugar levels and can damage our teeth. So in terms of health, over-consumption of any type of sugar is not ideal, “unrefined” or not.
My stance on sugar:
We know that most of the population consumes too much free sugars, and replacing standard white sugar granules with other sources is not reducing actual sugar intakes. Other sources of sugar, such as maple syrup, honey and agave are generally significantly more expensive (£4 for 250ml maple syrup vs. £1.60 for 1kg caster sugar in Tesco). Moreover, they aren’t always best option- it depends on what you use them for. Most of the sugar alternatives are terrible for baking. As they are liquids, you can’t simply switch the recipe from granulated sugar to them.
The take home message here is this: no sugar type is “better”/”healthier”, sugar is just sugar. It provides energy and tastes good, and therefore is useful in the diet. Choose your sugar dependent on the situation, E.G. use caster sugar in your sponge cake, and keep maple syrup for your pancakes. Do not trust everything that celebs and bloggers say on sugar- just because they say a recipe is “healthy”, does not guarantee that it is! Do not quit sugar. It is unnecessary, and frankly cutting out whole groups of food is unhealthy.
So please don’t spend a fortune on an “unrefined”, “sugar-free”, “healthy” egg that tastes crap this Easter- get the real deal delicious one (that is probably less than £4!) that you really want and savour every mouthful!!
Lots of love,
Little O x