Body Blog: Get Your Sugar Facts Straight!

Much like everything else in a college girl’s life (finding the perfect pair of jeans, balancing relationships, deciding where to party, etc.), sugar seems complicated. And I’m sick of complicated, so I’m going to break it down for you.

Should you go for natural or artificial? Low-cal or all natural? Corn syrup or aspartame? Honey or agave nectar?

Here’s your guide to satisfying your sweet tooth in the healthiest way possible.

What It’s Called
There are secret code names for sugar that you’ll find in everything from crackers to vegetables. Look for: Sucrose, Fructose, Glucose, Corn Sugar, Sorbitol, Dextrose, Maltose, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Aspartame, Lactose… and more.

What It Does To Your Body
Carbs and sugars turn into glucose, which gives us energy to function. Glucose determines your blood sugar level, which affects your appetite, emotions, athletic performance, and more. You do not want to screw with this system – ideally, you want your blood sugar level to stay pretty even all the time. Usually people do this by eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and things that get metabolized at a steady rate in your body.

Sugar has two parts. Besides the glucose, there’s fructose, which is in added sweeteners, and in smaller amounts in fruits and veggies. Either way, eating too many calories from glucose or fructose is a sure way to gain weight and mess up your blood sugar level.

Real Sugar
Anything that we can easily trace to its natural source fits in this category. Check out these facts on natural sources of sweetness:

Sugar (granulated, raw, brown, powdered, etc.)
Made from sugar beets & cane
Spikes your blood sugar levels
48 calories per tablespoon

Has some natural antioxidants
Metabolized same as sugar, but doesn’t spike your blood sugar level quite as much
64 calories per tablespoon

Agave Nectar
Made from same plant as tequila
Keeps your blood sugar level stable
Sweeter than sugar, so you’d use a lot less
60 calories per tablespoon

Comes from stevia plant
No calories and doesn’t screw with your blood sugar levels
Used in South America and Japan for awhile
Brain does not recognize it as sugar, so it probably won’t satisfy your sweet tooth

Fake Sugar
Tastes like sugar, made with similar ingredients to sugar, but it’s just not natural. Oh, and contrary to what you’ve heard, it doesn’t cause cancer! Here are some surprising facts about non-natural sugar products:

High Fructose Corn Syrup (pop, crackers, cereal, granola bars, almost everything, etc.)
Contains near same percentages of fructose & glucose as sugar, so gets broken down in the body almost the same.
In study of obese people, found that it can increase bad cholesterol as they needed more insulin to regulate blood sugar levels.
May make it harder to associate sweet taste with high calories, so harder to keep track of calories.
45 calories per tablespoon

Aspartame (diet pop, Equal, breakfast cereals, desserts, candy)
May cause headaches and stomach aches
No links to cancer after further research
Almost no calories
Doesn’t react with heat well, so you can’t cook with it

Sucralose/Splenda (diet pop, protein bars, low-cal anything, etc.)
Derived from sugar (chlorine replaces some stuff in the normal sugar molecule)
People have reported side effects like cramps, headaches, weight gain, fatigue, bloating, etc.
No links to cancer after further research
Almost no calories.

What Kind of Sugar is for YOU?
In general, staying away from the sweet stuff is the best idea because it’s usually high in calories and low in nutrients. Less than 10% of your daily calories should come from sugar, and you already get a good amount of natural sugar from fruits and vegetables! Remember, though: sugar-free items don’t mean healthy – just empty calories! So which is best for you? Well, like most things, it all depends on which situations you usually find yourself in. Do you:

Need Coffee in the Morning? You can’t imagine your morning java without sugar! Go for Stevia-based options since it usually comes in packets, has no calories, and isn’t associated with any side effects.

Look for All-Natural Antioxidants? You want a sweetener with the most nutritional value possible. Date sugar and blackstrap molasses, although unmentioned because they aren’t as common and are kind of expensive, provide the most antioxidants. Honey would be your next alternative because it has more antioxidants than any of the other sweeteners mentioned here.

Count Calories?
You’re a girl on a weight loss mission! Use Stevia-based options if you can, since they have no calories and don’t have any side effects that could de-rail your exercise and weight loss plan.

Love to Cook?
You can use agave nectar or applesauce as your secret weapons for making healthier desserts. If the recipe is no-bake, you can replace the sugar with an equal amount of unsweetened applesauce or agave nectar. If the ingredients will be heated, you can usually replace up to two thirds of the sugar with these healthier substitutes.

Stay on Budget?
Honey and agave syrup are expensive. Don’t go for organic versions – the label will jack up the price significantly. You can usually buy the cheapest sweeteners, like Stevia, Splenda or regular sugar if you want, in bulk to save money!

Have a Major Sweet Tooth? Try to stay away from artificial sweeteners like High Fructose Corn Syrup, Aspartame, and Splenda because they won’t satisfy your sweet tooth! You need legit sugar to satiate cravings, so if you’re making a dessert, try substituting some of the sugar for applesauce. If you’re buying sweets, go for quality rather than quantity. Make sure it’s made with actual sugar and only eat it in moderation.



  1. Leigha says:

    Honey isn't really that expensive. You usually only use a small amount and it never goes bad.

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  4. Alana says:

    Actually, artificial sweeteners are extremely bad for you and contain tons of chemicals that have been shown to cause cancers. Aspartame is the absolute worst one of them. And while the natural stevia plant alone is a safe sweetener, Truvia has proven to be just as bad as the fake sugars. We are what we eat, and if we are putting fake, chemical-filled things into our bodies, we're likely to end up with fake, chemical-filled things being produces in them. I'd always stick with a natural honey or organic cane sugar.

  5. Brooklynn says:

    Artificial sweetners are not that bad for you if used in moderation. We shouldn't even be eating that much artificial sugar if its causing chemical imbalances and other problems within our bodies. When this article was written, she wasn't talking about drinking three or four diet soda's a day, or adding mass amounts of Splenda to every meal. There are several studies that I have read in magazines, and internet articles that say the artificial sweetners are bad – in large amounts.

  6. Toothless says:

    Which sugar supplements dissolve your teeth like meth user at the dance halls?

    Bye Bye…

  7. Consumer Freedom says:

    High fructose corn syrup is not a “fake” sugar. I have no idea how you came up with this list, but it’s a real sugar just like refined white table sugar—made of fructose and glucose. And unlike some other sweeteners on your “real sugar” list (some of which are not actually sugar by any measure), it’s indistinguishable to the human body.

  8. @ Brooklynn: I couldn't agree with you more – I definitely advocate moderation for everything! And I was pretty surprised to find that all of the studies I saw said artificial sweeteners weren't bad for you, per say, it just depended on your goals (like if you diet, you wouldn't want artificial sweeteners because they doesn't register with your body)

  9. @Toothless: I couldn't find any legitimate literature on losing teeth from artificial sweeteners when I did research for this article. Check this out:
    Would you mind pointing me toward proof?

  10. @ Consumer Freedom:

    "High fructose corn syrup is not a “fake” sugar. I have no idea how you came up with this list, but it’s a real sugar just like refined white table sugar—made of fructose and glucose."

    It seems like you're disagreeing with how I categorized the sugar. I stated my methods for categorizing right in the article – "Anything that we can easily trace to its natural source". High Fructose Corn Syrup is made from corn, but is so chemically modified I didn't feel that it could belong in the Real Sugar category. Looks like clear gloop – not natural. It extends the life of products so it can sit on a shelf for years and not go bad – not natural. The amounts of fructose and glucose are chemically altered to suit the product's desired sweetness – not natural. Check it out:
    So I'm not sure what you are adding to the conversation because you seem to be repeating what I already said in the article: HFCS "contains near same percentages of fructose & glucose as sugar, so gets broken down in the body almost the same." Note the "near same". Not "the same".

    And then you go on to say "And unlike some other sweeteners on your “real sugar” list (some of which are not actually sugar by any measure), it’s indistinguishable to the human body."

    Actually, none of the items mentioned in this entire article are actually sugar besides Sugar itself. And HFCS is made from corn, so it's not sugar either. In this article, "sugar" is just being used as an umbrella term to cover all types of sweeteners. I didn't want to use the word "sweetener" instead because it has connotations of being "fake" and in this article I discussed real sweeteners as well. I didn't categorize things based on how they react in the body – I categorized them based on how easily I could trace them to their source, like I explained above.

    Thanks for commenting on the post!

  11. @Leigha: You’re right, when you think in terms of longevity of use, it’s not too bad. I think I meant that for the average college girl, because I doubt we make many long-term purchases (well, I know I don’t!) And compared to other sweeteners on the list, I’ve found honey to be pretty expensive in comparison!

  12. @ Alana: “Actually, artificial sweeteners are extremely bad for you and contain tons of chemicals that have been shown to cause cancers.”
    According to the Mayo Clinic, you’re wrong! It actually surprised me too. But I knew about all of the controversy surrounding fake sugar products in the blogs and in unreliable sources, so I really did my research on this article! Maybe check out these more reliable sources for more info:

  13. a says:

    @ Nina

    “HFCS is made from corn, but is so chemically modified I didn’t feel that it could belong in the real sugar category”

    You take glucose and use glucose isomerase (an enyzme) and you have fructose instead. There’s a natural equilibrium between the two which gives a mixture of glucose and fructose (although you can push the reaction more towards fructose).

    How is a natural enzyme “so chemically modified”?

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