We Get Greener Kit Cassingham & her Bigger Half

What is Refined Sugar?

Our good friend, Mr. Skeptic, raised the question of "what is refined sugar" when we were discussing high fructose corn syrup. They seem related, at least tangentially, so I set out to learn more. Sugar, in terms of food, refers to sucrose -- aka table sugar, generally coming from sugar cane and sugar beets. It can refer to other sweeteners as well, so clarification of terms during discussions is prudent. Refined sugar is the result of extracting sucrose from plant materials and then purifying that.

One problem with sugar is that most of the nutritional value is removed during the repeated steps of refining it. Sugar, a with so many other foods, has been subjected to marketing ploys. Specifically I'm referring to "raw sugar". It's not at all raw, it's highly refined and void of nutrients like any other table sugar. And don't let the term "pure sugar" trick you either -- it's the same devoid product as table sugar and not a wholesome product at all.

I think the real question Mr. Skeptic had is what are the dangers of refined sugar. After the HFCS debate that question is even bigger in my mind, and probably his. To me it's clear that HFCS isn't just void of nutrition, it's evil, so now it's time to see where sugar fits into this health discussion.

Here is a quick list of problems I've found related to too much sugar in your diet:

  • dental decay
  • weight gain, obesity even
  • leaches the body of vitamins and minerals
  • impaired immune system, opening the door to attack, like of cold, heat, mosquitoes, microbes, etc.
  • decreased bone density
  • depletes the body of glucose, the real cell fuel we have
  • brain function diminishes
  • blood pressure goes "abnormal"
  • malnourishment
  • acidic, gassy stomach
  • stressed endocrine system
  • hormone imbalance
  • elevated triglycerides and lowered HDL (the good cholesterol)
  • fatigue
  • mental anguish; nervousness, depression, irritability/anger, apprehension
  • allergies and asthma
  • blood sugar alterations (both hypo- and hyperglycemia)
  • osteoporosis

While diabetes has been associated with sugar consumption, there is also evidence that there isn't a direct connection or correlation. Take sugar out of your diet, or at least greatly reduce it, and don't worry about this possibility. Take this slow and easy, don't go cold turkey.

Sugar in the Body
Glucose is an essential element in the bloodstream, sucrose isn't; sucrose is empty calories. Many of the attributes assigned to sucrose, table sugar, really apply only to glucose. Glucose metabolizes to produce energy and warmth; sucrose doesn't. Be very careful when reading about sugar to understand what is being discussed so you don't fall prey to marketing terminology.

According to the Global Healing Center, "Humans need sugar as much as they need the nicotine in tobacco." Oh yeah, that sounds bad. Whole, unprocessed foods are what the body needs for ultimate health. Huh, that's a similar admonition I found when researching the evils of high fructose corn syrup. No wonder Mr. Skeptic became so alarmed about sugar; he saw the connection during that article discussion.

Starches and complex sugars break down into monosaccharides, which are usable nutrients. Refined starches and sugars break down into acetic acid, alcohol, carbon dioxide and water -- unusable substances, except for the water. Why bother putting unusable substances into your body where they can cause untoward problems? Yeah, I can't think of a reason besides "it tastes good!" either.

Are there any healthy sweeteners? What can you substitute for your sugar, not counting artificial sweeteners? Of the usual suspects (turbinado sugar, powdered/confectioners sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup/sugar, and molasses), the maple syrup and molasses have lower percentages of sucrose than the others on the list. But glucose, aka dextrose, is the sweetener our bodies can utilize. I found a list of "better" sugars, but they have their impacts too:

  • date sugar
  • fruit
  • honey
  • maple syrup
  • molasses, especially the unsulfured blackstrap style - and the darker the better
  • sucanat

While I advocate adopting healthier eating habits I also promote the notion of enjoying life and having fun with your food. The occasional sugary dessert won't hurt you, at least most of you, and by lifting your spirits might actually be good for you. But you should be the one in control of your sugar consumption, not some food manufacturer. You should be in control of your sugar consumption and not leave it mindlessly to others. You'll eat more sugar than you know or intend if you don't take charge.

Here's another interesting tidbit. All consumed sugar needs magnesium, calcium and B-complex vitamins for its digestion. Complex sugars, or carbohydrates -- starch, fruits, vegetables -- contain those nutrients, as well as fiber which is missing in sugar. Refined sugars don't have such nutrients, which are required to digest them, so the body provides them, ultimately depleting the body's reserves. The argument for eating refined sugars as long as you take vitamins too reminds me of "white bread" and its ilk: just add the nutrients that have been stripped out so you can have "nutritious food". What a weird way to spend money and foil a healthy diet.

Disguised Sugars
If you want to cut sugar from your diet and remove it from your house, here are some synonyms for refined sugar to look for on your labels:

  • sucrose
  • fructose and HFCS
  • corn syrup and corn sugar
  • agave nectar/syrup
  • glucose
  • maltose and maltodextrin
  • lactose and galactose
  • cane syrup
  • invert sugar
  • dextrose

As with HFCS, sugars are added to so many processed foods that you are bombarded with sugar even if you don't directly add sugar to your food. Ketchup and mayonnaise, bread, jam and peanut butter, spaghetti sauce and lunch meat, cereal and soda, etc. Processed food is a huge supplier of sugar to our diets. Again, if you eat whole foods -- shop the outer edges of your store -- you can more easily avoid sugar.

Weight Gain
Let's talk about weight gain and its connection to sugar. The body's blood-sugar balance is thrown off by the influx of refined sugar in the bloodstream. That triggers insulin to be released by the pancreas. Insulin promotes the storage of fat, especially in the belly, hips and thighs, and breasts. That leads to a rapid weight gain, and elevated triglycerides. Elevated triglyceride levels are associated to cardiovascular disease.

It's been shown time and again, a steady diet of sugar only is worse than nothing. You can live on water for a time, but sugar-only will kill you quickly. That's a good way of stating just how bad refined sugar is for you. Think of refined sugar as processed poison if that helps you remove it from your diet.

Darn it! I'm adding sugar to my list of evil foods.

The same video I used in the article More On The Evils of High Fructose Corn Syrup really addresses the evils of sugar. If you missed it before, though it's long it's a good watch, and here it is:

Dr. Robert H Lustig: "The Bitter Truth"

Additional Reading:


I can personally attest to the evils of sugar. Three months ago, I went to a naturopath, and he said I needed to stop eating sugar. My biggest health complaint at the time was 1-2 migraine headaches each week. I stopped eating sugar cold turkey, and I've had two migraines in the last three months. I do use stevia as a sweetener, and I will never go back to eating sugar. The one time I've tried it (to cut the acid in some homemade spaghetti sauce), I felt the effects almost immediately. In an hour, I was homicidal for no good reason. No thank you!

The second month off sugar I noticed that I was extremely tired in the late morning, and I tried drinking black tea to combat that. It worked ok. Now I have more energy than before, and it's steadier. If I don't get enough sleep, I'm still pretty functional, and if work gets really busy, or I'm too swamped at home, I don't get sick like I used to. I'm just tired, and I catch up on my sleep later.

Thanks for posting the video, too. I'll watch it when I have a chunk of time!

Sarah at July 18, 2010 9:18 AM

Great article! I am diabetic, so I try to watch what I eat anyway and I find that I really love the fresh fruits and veggies, you don't have to worry about the "sugars" in those so much.

Debbie at July 18, 2010 11:31 AM

A couple years ago I needed to lose weight and I started trying different things to reduce my calorie intake. Getting rid of soft drinks and switching to water, along with reducing sugar and HFCS made the biggest difference. I not only lost 40 lbs I have kept it off for more than 3 years.

I agree with living a full enjoyable life so I allow myself a soda (especially a float) or dessert here or there, but whenever that creeps up to more than 2 a week my weight creeps up again.

I use maple and honey whenever I cook and keep sugar and HFCS to a bare minimum. I also brew my own beer and I find that beer, although high in carbohydrates is low in sugar (the yeast ate it all) so it doesn't affect my weight like a soda.

Ed Justice at July 18, 2010 7:51 PM


How long did it take you to learn to cook and bake with Stevia? And how much trouble is it to make that transition?

The month I was on a vegan and non-sugar/alcohol diet was one of the healthiest times of my life. My lesson was short-lived though, I went back to my evil ways as fast as I could.

Now that I'm ready to give up sugar, at least greatly reduce its consumption, I'm wanting to learn more.

While I haven't started loosing weight in the past two weeks of being sugar-reduced, my stomach "poochiness" has greatly reduced. That's as good a reason for me to drop this stuff from my diet as many.


Kit Cassingham at July 31, 2010 7:41 AM


I'm glad you haven't cut fruits from your diet. I see too many people on diets, like Atkins and South Beach (for the first two weeks), drop fruit from their daily intake. I personally think it's a valuable form of nutrition.

A balanced diet is necessary for good health and ideal weight. Balance includes quantity of food. :~)


Kit Cassingham at July 31, 2010 7:44 AM


How long did it take for you to learn to cook with honey/maple syrup instead of sugar? Your weight management success is impressive.

I have heard many times beer is a better beverage than soda, or even wine, though of course it can't be consumed as publicly as soda. A good, dark beer is quite refreshing at times. Water without ice is my preferred beverage most of the time.


Kit Cassingham at July 31, 2010 7:47 AM

I'd like to know more about Stevia too. When I google it, there's a lot of hype that I'd like to hack thru and learn more. Sarah, what is your source for information and purchasing of Stevia?

Jim at August 1, 2010 8:00 PM
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