Sugar: Good or Bad?

Question: What’s the deal with sugar? Is sugar good or is sugar bad?

There is no simple yes or no answer to the question “Is sugar bad?”

My immediate response is no, sugar is not evil. However, that’s not the full story. Sugar can be detrimental to health and cause medical problems if not consumed in the appropriate form.

Dates are a healthy alternative to refined sugar

Even though dates provide 100% of their carbohydrates in the form of sugar they are still healthy as they provide fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients to the body. Fresh dates are better than dried dates.

Healthy Sugar

Sugar is beneficial for the human body in whole food forms. The majority of foods high in carbohydrates have a combination of sugar and starch. Fruits tend to have high amounts of sugar (in the form of fructose and glucose) and low to no amounts of starch. Starches take time in the digestive tract to break down into simple sugars.

Vegetables tend to have somewhat balanced amounts of starches and sugars. However there are some vegetables higher in sugar and others higher in starch. Whole grains and legumes provide most of their carbohydrates in the form of starch and a small amount in the form of sugar.

When sugars in whole food forms are eaten, it causes a faster rise in blood sugar than starch. Yet this isn’t a concern. Fruit contains nutrients such as fiber, water, vitamins and minerals to regulate the increase in blood sugar. It’s true that individuals will gain energy faster by eating carbohydrates from sugar than starch. Yet the sugar will not cause a dangerous spike in blood sugar.

Whole foods sugars are not detrimental to health. It’s near impossible to become overweight by consuming fruits and vegetables.

Unhealthy sugar

On the other hand, obtaining carbohydrates and energy from processed and condensed sugars isn’t optimal. Examples of these are

  • high fructose corn syrup
  • table sugar
  • brown sugar
  • honey
  • maple syrup

When eaten by themselves— without fiber, water, vitamins, minerals and other phytonutrients found in whole plant foods— processed sugars can wreak havoc on the body.

Consuming large amounts of  processed sugar has a much greater likelihood of making you fat than fruit does. Eating sugar without fiber causes a spike in blood sugar. This in turn causes a spike in insulin. Following a spike in blood sugar is the rapid drop in blood sugar, followed with a rapid drop in insulin levels.

The body is unable to keep up with the rapid rise and drop in blood sugar. During a period of time after the blood sugar drops, but not yet the insulin, there exists a time when most people experience hunger because blood sugar has dropped too low. The body now thinks it’s hungry. This causes people to overeat and can start the process over again if an individual chooses to eat processed sugar (or even simply highly processed carbohydrates such as white bread).

What’s the answer?

In the end, if I was required to answer with a blunt yes or no to the question “Is sugar bad?” I would answer with a no.

Ultimately it’s harder to become fat from eating sugar (carbohydrates) than fat. The worst food combination is refined sugar and fat. The combination causes rapid rise in blood sugar, fat blocking storage of glycogen and insulin encouraging the storage of fat on the body.

  • Updated a couple of years ago
Sara Binde

Sara is a health and nutrition coach. She advocates for a whole foods plant-based lifestyle and teaches the world how to achieve weight loss.