Is Fruit Sugar the same as Refined Sugar?

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that sweets and candies aren’t exactly health food. But what about fruit – isn’t that high in sugar too? To hear some people tell it, a banana is no better than a chocolate bar. But the truth is a bit more complicated. The fact is, sugar is sugar, no matter where it comes from. But when you look at the bigger nutritional picture, the effect on your health can vary wildly.

A closer look

First things first. What is sugar made of? Whether you’re eating an apple or a piece of cake, all sugar is made of the same two components: fructose and glucose – and sugar molecules look the same, no matter where they come from. And furthermore, though there is some variation, the ratio of fructose and glucose is pretty similar between table sugar and most fruits.

What’s the difference between fructose and glucose? Neither is better or worse for your body – you just process each one a bit differently. Fructose breaks down in your liver, and doesn’t require insulin to be digested, whereas glucose starts breaking down in the stomach, and does need insulin to be metabolized completely.

Sweet nothings
So if all sugar contains both glucose and fructose, and look about the same under a microscope…how is a piece of fruit any better than a can of soda? Just ask a diabetic. While all sweet foods will increase your blood sugar levels, fruits generally cause a much lower spike, making it easier for people with diabetes to monitor their sugar levels.

Why? Because sweets and candies give you sugar…and nothing else. With 40 grams of sugar, and no fibre or protein to slow your digestion, a can of soda delivers its serving of fructose to your liver lightning-fast, which overloads your metabolism without providing any nutritional value. On the other hand, a serving of fruit has less sugar by volume: about 20 grams less. So when you eat fruit, the fructose hits your liver more slowly, allowing your body to process it easily.

In good company
The main reason it’s so much healthier to eat sugar from fruit? All the other good-for-you stuff you’re getting in the mix. Fruits are packed with fibre, antioxidants, water, vitamins and minerals. In other words, compared to nutritionally void foods like candy and soda, you’re getting a lot more bang for your buck.

Fibre is an especially happy companion to naturally occurring sugars. Not only does it help reduce cholesterol and increase satiety, fibre also slows the absorption of carbohydrates – including, you guessed it, sugar. Meaning your body has more time to process that delivery of glucose and fructose, and you’re less likely to get a crazy sugar spike…and subsequent crash. Fibre also makes fruits feel more satisfying to eat. One large apple can be seriously filling, which means you’ll eat less of other foods.

Compared to soda and sweets, it’s a no brainer. Calorie for calorie, fruit is simply more satisfying. So next time you’re craving something sweet, reach for your fruit bowl…not your candy jar.