One of my reader’s posed a question after reading yesterday’s blog: what’s the difference between natural and processed sugar? My response: “Let me dig!” So here we are again, with a blog spurned by curiosities!! And after reading all about how sugar is processed, it’s reignited my desire to see if I could take a tour of the Spreckels Sugar plant out in Brawley, CA…
What IS Sugar?
Sugar is a byproduct of photosynthesis and is found in all plants. It is commonly referred to in three categories: sucrose, fructose, and glucose.
You ever notice on the food label that “Sugar” falls under “Carbohydrates?” So, sugars are a form of carbs. Carbs break down into glucose (aka blood sugar) and provide fuel to the body, gives us energy. It’s what we need. However, unused energy gets stored in the form of fat.
Refined / Processed Sugar
Sugar cane and sugar beets are the main source for sucrose. Sugar cane sugar is processed by shredding the cane, then crushing those remnants between rollers and extracting the juice, which is filtered, evaporated, filtered again, boiled, and stuck into a centrifuge for further evaporation. What’s left are crystals. Those are then washed, filtered again, processed, packed, and ready to go. These clarification and filtration processes may involve chemicals (milk of lime, carbon dioxide, calcium carbonate, carbon filters, etc.) to strip the sugar of impurities, colors, and aid in crystallization. Also, because of these processes, refined sugar lacks any nutritional value and are metabolized by the body a lot faster than natural sugars, which may spike blood sugar levels. A word to my vegan friends: some companies may use “bone char” for their charcoal filters, which contains incinerated cattle bones. PETA offers a list of companies that refrain from using bone char in their processing.
Sugar beets are processed into sugar in a similar fashion of washing, extracting the juice, filtration, boiling, evaporation, and crystallization.
Even raw sugar goes through about half of the processing treatments referenced above. It may not go through some of the last filtration and crystallization processes, but even raw sugar requires some processing before it hits the shelves and your table.
Fruits, vegetables, and honey contain natural sugar, known as fructose, and dairy contains natural sugar, known as lactose. Fruits, veges, and dairy also offer nutritional and digestive benefits, which allow your body to break down the sugars slower and easier than processed sugars, which may stabilize your blood sugar levels. Some natural sugars are a byproduct of a process: such as honey from bees, maple syrup from trees, agave nectar from cacti, or stevia from the plant.
High Fructose Corn Syrup
We’ve all heard of or read this ingredient on the back of a food label. But what is it? It’s a sugar made from processed cornstarch. It is much higher on the glycemic index due to it’s grainy upbringing, which may spike blood sugar levels faster. The F.D.A. tells the public that there really aren’t any major safety differences between sucrose, fructose, or high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), but does advise the public to limit their sugar consumption.
Regardless of what sugar you consume, please do it all in moderation. Heightened blood sugar levels and inflammation allegedly caused by sugar (whether processed or natural) may lead to obesity, chronic illnesses, Diabetes, heart attacks, cancer, or many other conditions. I’m not saying stop eating sugar…but I am encouraging all of us (including myself) to make smarter decisions. Maintain a well-balanced diet. Exercise when you can. Enjoy your food, drink, and lifestyle. But do it well.
We only have one body. Live well. For yourself, and for those who love you.
Fructose Information Center
~ Again, I am a layman. I do not hold any college degrees, nor mastery of knowledge. Please take what I say with a grain of salt. If curious, do your own research 😉 Validate my writings. Or challenge them. And ALWAYS feel free to consult with your physician. Always. Yours ~ Lisa