Eli5: Whats the difference between “processed sugar” and sugar found in fruit, bread and milk etc? arent processed sugar the same sugar molecules as those?


And more specifically, what is it that makes processed sugar worse than consuming sugar from those products, is it blood sugar spike or something?

In: 311

they may be the same chemically, but the difference lies in potency and the process through which you obtain the sugar itself, a bottle of corn syrup contains the same sugar within the normal corn, but so potent that a bottle of corn syrup has the same amount of sugar you would find in a lot of corn cobs.

for example, A 400 gram bottle of corn syrup contains approximately 312 grams of sugar. One medium-sized ear of corn contains approximately 6.4 grams of natural sugars, usually hidden within a lot of fiber, protein, vitamin, fats, etc.

Yep. Artificially added sugar is chemically the same as natural sugar. But natural sugar is usually trapped with other proteins/fiber/organic matter and typically in lower quantities. So when we eat these foods, it takes time for these natural sugars to be released and absorbed by our gut. The result is slower and lower blood sugar spikes and levels that can be managed by our insulin levels in a reasonable way. This is all opposite for artifical sugar, leading to problems like diabetes and decreased satiety.

You also mentioned milk which does contain some sucrose (table sugar) but mostly lactose, which is digested by a different enzyme but ultimately becomes glucose in the end through metabolism. Lactose may do some different things brain chemistry wise and insulin levels wise but ultimately the amount of milk people consume is not usually a concern since most people have some level of lactose intolerance anyway.

These are two different types of sugar. Processed sugar is glucose. Fruits contain fructose. The glycemic index (GI) of glucose is 100 (by defintion). Fructose is 25. The higher the GI, the faster the sugar is processed and the bigger the blood sugar spike. The bigger spike you want to avoid.

Excessive amounts of either can be bad. For most people, the fructose you consume is via fruits which contain vitamins, minerals, fiber and are satiating. Glucose is often consume in in the form of something like soda which is basically glucose and water.

“Sugar” isn’t actually a singular thing. It’s a term we use to refer to a wide variety of molecules. That’s why you’ll sometimes hear them referred to as sugars (plural), rather than simply sugar (singular).

Some types of sugars are absorbed by our bodies more readily. Whether or not the sugars are combined with fiber also appears to make a difference in how our bodies process the sugars. Refined sugars are sugars that have been isolated from other forms of nutrition and fiber. So when we consume them, our bodies process to them very quickly.

This results in an increase in insulin, and insulin is actually pretty bad for our circulatory system. It makes the insides of your veins and arteries rough. This roughness causes fats to stick to them, which results in build up. So eating refined sugar and fat together is a really bad combination. Hello donuts.

When you eat something like fruit, you’re getting sugars that are processed more slowly by our bodies to begin with, plus the sugars are wrapped up with fiber that slows down their processing further. This is why sugars in food aren’t quite as bad.

It’s still not great to eat foods that are high in sugar though. You can absolutely consume too many calories by eating too much fruit, bread, or milk.

Health-wise, processed sugars and natural sugars are almost identical. Processed sugars may be slightly purer and thus absorb into the bloodstream faster, but the difference is pretty negligible. The difference between processed and natural sugars is largely a marketing tool, to convince consumers that buying foods with “no added sugar” is healthy, even when they may still contain plenty of sugar in the form of fruit products.

Even starches, which are chains of simple sugars bonded together, and which we used to think took longer to break down and absorb, are metabolized pretty much just as quickly. A jolly rancher, a glass of grape juice, a slice of white bread, they all just turn into glucose in our bloodstream almost immediately after we eat them.

What really matters is how much sugar you’re consuming at once. Processed sugars allow us to create foods with much higher sugar content than anything in nature, like candy bars and ice cream sandwiches. A fast spike in blood sugar puts strain on your pancreas, which produces insulin to regulate the flow of sugar in and out of your cells, and doing this too often or too extremely can lead to diabetes. Also, natural sugars typically come packaged with other important nutrients such as fiber, so to say that they’re generally healthier is somewhat true. A fruit smoothie with no added sugar might be just as sugary as one with added sugar, but it might have more other nutrients if they had to use more fruit to get that same sugar content. (That’s not always the case though.)