We hate to be the bearers of bad news, but we feel the need to clarify a common misconception: There’s no such thing as a “healthy” sugar. Or even a “less bad” sugar. Your body doesn’t care if it’s “organic” or “unrefined” or “all-natural” and it certainly doesn’t care if Gwyneth Paltrow deems it suitable for her children’s consumption.
Done hyperventilating? Now let’s delve into the nutritional science behind this.
First things first, all sugar is sugar: It’s no secret that consuming sugar in large quantities has deleterious effects on your health – studies have linked it to obesity, diabetes and increased risk of heart disease, to name a few. Sure, you need carbohydrates, which include both complex and simple sugars, for your body to break down and convert to energy. But it’s the added sugars that sweeten some of your favorite foods and beverages that you need to watch out for.
So why can added sugars like agave nectar, raw honey or coconut palm sugar never really be deemed “healthy”? Because, as Dr Marion Nestle, the Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University, put it, “Sugar is sugar, alas.” Meaning: No matter what type of sugar you consume – whether it’s table sugar or maple syrup chock full of “vitamins” and “minerals” – your blood sugar goes up. “Minerals don’t counter calories or hormones,” Nestle told The Huffington Post.
And it’s those pesky calories that link deceptively “healthy” sugars with the regular refined stuff. Dr Jaimie Davis, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, explained to The Huffington Post, “Ultimately, they’re all having similar effects on obesity. There’s no data that suggests that if you consume more calories from honey, you store it differently.”
And by “sugar,” we mean a combination of fructose and glucose: To understand why “sugar is sugar,” one must know what it is in the first place. What we commonly refer to as table sugar is actually sucrose, a compound composed of 50 percent glucose and 50 percent fructose. Most caloric sweeteners, including the so-called “healthy” ones, contain some ratio of glucose and fructose, which trigger key reactions in your body. Kristin Kirkpatrick, a registered dietitian and manager of wellness nutrition services for the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, told The Huffington Post that when you consume sugar, the metabolic process begins the minute the sugar reaches your mouth. But the majority is ultimately absorbed in the small intestine, where the sugar is metabolized and absorbed into your blood. Enzymes from the stomach then convert the sugar into glucose, your body’s preferred energy source. While it can provide your cells with fuel, something your body and brain need for proper functioning, glucose can cause excess weight gain. It spikes your insulin and blood sugar levels, plus it’s absorbed and used up quickly.
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