Sugar, Part 1: What is sugar?

Bakery Goods Refined Carbs

What is sugar?

Sugars are carbohydrates or carbs. They are the sugars, starches and fibres found in grains, fruits, vegetables and dairy, as well as soft drinks, breads and cakes and sweets.

Sugar is sugar and refined grains

There are two main types of sugars

  1. Sugars – Refined and processed or added sugars such as sucrose (table sugar), high fructose corn syrup and agave syrup. They are usually a mixture of simple sugars such as glucose, fructose or sucrose. Other types including galactose, lactose and maltose, are less common. Deceptively, food manufacturers often hide the total amount of sugar by listing it under several different names on the ingredients list

  2. Refined grains – These are grains that have had the fibrous and nutritious parts removed leaving the starch. They are therefore devoid of fibre, vitamins and minerals. This includes whole wheat and whole meal breads. If the nutrients are added back in, the refined grains are described as enriched.

Glycaemic Index

Both sugar and refined grains have the same effect on the body in that they cause a high glycaemic index. This means they are rapidly digested and absorbed into the bloodstream, causing spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels. Blood sugar then crashes causing sugar cravings in a vicious cycle leading to addiction.

Eating high glycaemic foods has been linked to overeating. Disturbingly, most chronic disease has been tied to these types of carbohydrates because they cause inflammation, which is a factor in up to 90% of disease.

However, some sugars such as fructose don’t have a high glycaemic ranking and yet they are more damaging to health because of they way the impact the metabolism.

Sugars list

Agave syrup (high fructose corn syrup with a 2:1 ratio of fructose to glucose)
Brown rice syrup
Barley malt
Brown rice syrup
Brown sugar
Carob syrup
Castor sugar
Coconut sugar
Confectioner’s sugar
Corn syrup
Date sugar
Demerara sugar
Diastatic malt
Ethyl maltol
Evaporated cane juice
Fruit juice concentrates
Fruit juices, except for lemon/lime juice
Glucose solids
Glucose syrup
Golden syrup
Grape sugar
High-fructose corn syrup
Honey – even though honey exists in nature and isn’t refined, it’s a pure sugar and affects health in the same way that other sugars do
Maple syrup
Malt syrup
Rice bran syrup
Rice malt syrup
Simple sugars – added sugars that are either forms of glucose or glucose with fructose
Table sugar/white sugar – may be cane sugar or beet sugar
Tapioca syrup
Turbinado sugar
Yellow sugar

Refined grains list

All types of flour including wheat, oat, legume (pea and bean), rice, tapioca and corn flours

Instant/refined grains including instant hot cereals such as instant oatmeal, white rice, polished rice and instant rice

Refined starches like corn starch, potato starch, modified food starch i.e. any powdered ingredient with the word starch in it

Glucose vs fructose

Glucose and fructose are often found together, but they have very different effects on the body.

Glucose can be metabolised by almost every cell in the body, but fructose is metabolised almost entirely by the liver meaning it has a very different effect on the metabolism. There are no human biochemical reactions that require fructose from the diet. The consumption of fructose results in the creation of triglyceride, an inflammatory form of fat. It also results in the creation of uric acid and free radicals, both potentially damaging to health.

‘Triglycerides can build up in liver cells and damage liver function. Triglycerides released into the bloodstream can contribute to the growth of fat-filled plaque inside artery walls. Free radicals (also called reactive oxygen species) can damage cell structures, enzymes, and even genes. Uric acid can turn off production of nitric oxide, a substance that helps protect artery walls from damage. Another effect of high fructose intake is insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes.’ *

High fructose consumption has also been linked insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, fatty liver and Type 2 diabetes.

While consuming any extra sugar should be avoided, but it is especially important to minimise high fructose added sugars.

Rice malt syrup and stevia are 100% fructose free.

Foods high in fructose

Canned fruit
Crystalline fructose
Energy and cereal bars
High fructose corn syrup
Jams and jellies
Salad dressings
Sugary drinks like soft drinks and fruit juices
Sweetened yoghurt
Processed cereals

High Fructose Corn Syrup

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a wide widely used sweetener, especially in the US. It is produced from corn starch via an industrial process. While it consists of both fructose and glucose, it contains more fructose than table sugar, sometimes up to 90%.

Apart from the problems associated with fructose consumption mentioned above, the process of creating HCFS involves adding enzymes to the corn syrup to change some of the glucose into fructose. The enzymes used, alpha- amylase and gluco-amylase, have been genetically modified to improve their heat stability. There is research showing that GMO foods are unhealthy for the gut or microbiome. GMO foods are banned in the EU.

The glycaemic index of key sugars

The fructose content of key sugars

Processed sugar - there’s nothing good about it. It’s a huge, huge industry, and it’s poison.
— David Kirsch

Written by Nore Hoogstad


Stanhope, K L, “Consuming fructose-sweetened, not glucose-sweetened, beverages increases visceral adiposity and lipids and decreases insulin sensitivity in overweight/obese humans”, Journal of Clinical Investigation, April 20, 2009,

Robert H Lustig, “Fructose: It's ‘Alcohol Without the Buzz’ ”, Advances in Nutrition, Volume 4, Issue 2, 1 March 2013, Pages 226-235,

* Patrick J Skerrett, Is Fructose Bad For You? 26 April 2011,

10 Reasons to Avoid GMOs, Jeffry Smith, 25 August 2011