Facts About Sugar and Unrefined Sugar Recipes

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Having the facts about sugar and unrefined sugar can lead to healthier eating choices. Get started with these tips and our unrefined sugar recipes!

titled Pinterest image: Facts About Sugar You've Always Wanted to Know

Things are getting sweet around here! It’s refined sugar free recipes month and today, sweeteners are in the spotlight. If you don’t fully understand the difference between refined and unrefined sugar, don’t worry – you will soon!

We ALSO have a dozen or so recipes to share with you, all made with unrefined sugar. Healthier, better-for-you breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks, and desserts! Are you ready? Let’s get to it!

Disclosure: Lindsay Cotter is a certified nutrition specialist, and does not have a medical degree. The information in this post comes from reliable medical resources, but should not be taken as medical advice. We recommend that you consult with your doctor before starting any new eating program or making changes to your diet.

Facts About Sugar

From the time of birth, our bodies crave sweet foods. The thing is, there’s a big difference between foods that are naturally sweet or made with raw sugar and those sweetened with refined sugar.

Raw Sugar vs Refined Sugar

Both raw, unrefined sugar and refined sugar come from the same source; sugar cane plants.

To create sugar, the cane is shredded, mixed with water, and crushed between rollers to extract the juice.
Then, before the juice is boiled and evaporated to form sugar crystals, the cane juice goes through filtration to remove any sediment.

In this state, the cane crystals are referred to as raw sugar, unprocessed sugar, or turbinado sugar. Turbinado crystals are golden brown in color, and much larger than refined sugar crystals.

To become refined sugar, it is processed further, to strip the color and any residual molasses from the crystals.

Here, let’s make this easier to understand.

VIDEO: The Facts About Sugar!

How refined sugars affect the body, digestion, and metabolism

Sugar provides our bodies with important carbohydrates, but refined sugars (also known as sucrose) are processed sugars. Rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, refined sugar can cause unhealthy spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels.

Even more concerning, those spikes can increase the risk of diseases like diabetes. *Note – people with type 1 diabetes will need to take supplemental insulin on an long term/daily basis.

There is some good news, though! Medical science shows there are significant health benefits to reducing the amount of sugar we eat!

According to research studies, lowering the intake of refined sugar can be beneficial in the following ways:

  • improve brain function, including memory retention
  • clearer, healthier skin and nails
  • increased energy and less general fatigue
  • deeper sleep and better sleep patterns
  • less bloating

How much sugar a day is okay?

According to the World Health Organization, no more than 5 percent of total calories eaten per day should come from added sugars. Based on a 2,000 calorie diet, that equals about 24 grams or 6 teaspoons of added sugars per day.

The American Heart Association, recommends that adult males consume no more than 9 teaspoons of added sugar per day (36 grams, approx. 150 calories).

Adult females should consume no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day (24 grams, approx. 100 calories).

Is fruit sugar bad?

Fruit sugars, also known as fructose, aren’t bad when eaten in moderation. However, depending on your body, you may be sensitive to fodmap fruits. These are fruits with a higher glycemic content, like certain varieties of apples, apricots, cherries, and watermelon, among others.

If high-FODMAPs are a problem for you, see our low fodmap meal plan for suggestions.

Refined Sugar List

All of these foods are categorized as refined sugars and should be avoided while you’re on an unrefined sugar diet.

  • white flour
  • evaporated cane juice
  • instant starches
  • light and dark corn syrup
  • high fructose corn syrup
  • brown sugar (made by adding molasses back into refined white sugar)
  • fructose
  • processed artificial sweeteners

Sneaky Hidden Sugars

Here are just a few of the hundreds of chemical forms of sugar that are commonly found in processed foods:

  • Dextrose
  • Dextran
  • Dextrin
  • Sucrose
  • Maltodextrin
  • Maltose

If you see these on nutrition labels, be conscious of the amounts. You could be consuming more ADDED sugar than you realize and this can affect blood sugar. Be MINDFUL. I say that politely, and I’m reminding myself. 

The Facts About Sugar –> Be sure to always read nutrition labels. Swap out those foods with hidden sugars or refined sugars.

Healthier Sugar Alternatives

sugar swaps graphics

Here are some examples of unrefined sugar / naturally refined sugars.

  • Yacon Syrup – Made from the roots of the yacon plant. Not recommended for high heat cooking, but it has a third of the calories of white sugar!
  • Stevia – Made from stevia plant leaves. No calories and hardly has an effect on blood glucose levels.
  • Raw Honey – Nature’s candy! Be sure to look for PURE raw honey; it has a low GI, while cheaper kinds of honey have a high GI.
  • Sucanat – Whole unrefined cane sugar. Sucanat is basically pure dried sugar cane juice. Because it is unrefined, it contains trace amounts of minerals such as iron, Vitamin b6, potassium, and calcium. Sucanat also retains all of the cane’s natural molasses, which means it keeps that rich brown colors and molasses flavor.
  • Turbinado (raw sugar) – This is minimally refined cane sugar, so use it in moderation.
  • Pure Maple Syrup – Made from maple tree sap. Don’t confuse this sugar alternative with pancake syrup; there’s a big difference.
  • Agave Syrup/Nectar – The sugar alternative is made from the agave plant. Don’t go hog wild on this one though; it has a high percentage of fructose, which can potentially be harmful if consumed in high quantities.
  • Coconut Sugar – No, coconut sugar is not made from coconuts! Instead, it’s made from the sap of coconut palm tree blossoms.
  • Date Paste / Date Sugar – My favorite sweetener for those on Whole30! I use it quite often, especially for making things like Sticky Date Cake Yogurt Bowls.
    Making this sticky sugar substitute is simple to do! Check out my recipe post to learn how to make date paste.
  • Monk fruit, also called Luo Han Guo, has been used as low cal sweetener for centuries. Nowadays, it’s easier to find in grocery stores in the U.S.

    Monk fruit contains compounds that, when extracted, are natural sweeteners. This sweetener is almost 300 times sweeter than cane sugar, has little to no calories, and it doesn’t affect blood sugar.

    Again, be sure to check that the monk fruit sugar/product you’re using doesn’t contain additional additives with GMO-derived sugar alcohols.

The Facts About Sugar Alcohols

Sugar alcohols are artificial sweeteners like sorbitol, maltitol, xylitol, etc. Despite the name, sugar alcohols don’t contain grain alcohol.

While they are low in calories, naturally derived, and can be substituted cup for cup, be mindful of how often you use them.

This is because sugar alcohols have been known to produce excessive bloating and frightful gas. Plus, many sugar alcohols are not sold in their pure state.

Many of the sugar alcohols used in foods and beverages today are derived from GMO sourced cornstarch. As a result, make sure to check the brand for added GMO starches, etc. (source)

packages of Bob's Red Mill coconut sugar and date sugar

There are some organic, non-GMO natural sugars available, which are great for easing your way into an unrefined sugar diet.

Recipes with Unrefined Sugar

Now that you know the facts about sugar, let’s get to work! Ready to swap out meals with added refined sugars for healthier meals?

Here are some of our favorite refined sugar free recipes!

titled photo collage of unrefined sugar meals and drinks

Breakfast Recipes with Unrefined Sugar

Breakfast – Sugar Swaps

Swap out your unhealthy breakfast for the meals below.  The average American breakfast is loaded with refined sugars!

We see them most often in the form of:

  • white sugar sweets like scones, donuts, and cinnamon rolls
  • dairy products with sugar
  • white flour
  • sweetened jam made with corn syrup and citric acid
  • canned fruit in syrup
  • microwavable instant oats
  • fast food breakfasts like egg sandwiches and smoothies with concentrated juices or syrups.

Refined Sugar Free Lunch Ideas

LUNCH – Sugar Swaps

Choose the meals below as a healthy swap for the refined sugar found in most deli meals.

Refined sugars hide in packaged condiments, dips, salad dressings, and deli meats. Even foods that label themselves as healthy may have refined sugar, such as gluten-free breads, chips, crackers, nut butter!

Refined Sugar Free Dinner Recipes

DINNER – Sugar Swaps

The facts about sugar hidden in dinner may surprise you! These options are usually crammed with sugar:

  • Canned soups
  • Pasta sauces
  • Restaurant carry-out- Chinese sauces are loaded with sugar, for example)
  • Convenience deli or frozen meals (check all ingredients!)
  • Meats/fish with marinades or sauces that contain added sugar.

Enjoy these EASY refined sugar-free homemade dinners instead!

Drinks and Desserts with Unrefined Sugar

Desserts

Bottom Line – The Facts About Sugar and Your Body

At the end of the day, all sugars (yes, even NATURAL sugars) can have an impact on your overall health. It’s important to figure out the sugar intake that’s right for you.

Some people can handle a little bit of sugar in their diet, while for others, it may cause binge eating, rapid weight gain, and disease. Every individual is unique and you need to figure out what works for you. 

If you need or want support to help you along the way, we’re here for you!

Keep me posted on your progress. Tag @cottercrunch on Instagram, join our Facebook community, comment below, or email!

Cheers and have a DELICIOUS week!
LC


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