27/09/2016 07:05 BST | Updated 27/09/2017 06:12 BST

We Need To Talk About 'Refined Sugar Free'

Team Clean hates refined sugar. HATES IT. While simultaneously showing a complete lack of understanding of what it is and how it works in the body. Because where white sugar is The Worst, unrefined sugar gets a free pass.

Let's get it straight though: 'refined sugar free' is not a thing. Stop trying to make it a thing.

Free sugars are any sugars added to food or drinks, or found naturally in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices. The NHS and the WHO want us to keep free sugars to under 5% of calories. That's ~30g or 7 teaspoons a day (a can of coke has ~40g of sugar). They give zero fucks about how 'refined' it is.

So why are Team Clean so confused about refined sugar? Well, none of them have nutrition degrees, so there's that. Plus, white sugar is for poor people and that's not very on brand.

But seriously, let's take a look at some of the weird shit around 'refined sugar free' and put some myths on blast.


Photo Credit

Quick Science Lesson

ALL sugars, whether 'natural' or otherwise, are made up of the same two simple sugars - glucose and fructose.

Glucose raises your blood sugar levels (not cool) and scientists think that fructose (from added sugars and fruit juice) can mess up the liver and cause metabolic disorders (but not fructose from F&V).

In white sugar the two simple sugars (glucose and fructose) are bound together to form another sugar called sucrose. Sucrose is what you put on your Rice Krispies or in your tea - table sugar.

In high fructose corn syrup, the glucose and the fructose are free in solution - but, you guessed it, there's more fructose than there is glucose. Same for agave syrup except there's even more fructose - agave syrup is more high fructose than high fructose corn syrup (doy!). Honey also gets its sweetness from free glucose and fructose.

What about other 'good for you' sweeteners - well maple syrup is mostly sucrose (66%). Coconut sugar? Estimates are around 70-80% sucrose, plus some free glucose and fructose for good measure. So maple and coconut sugars - basically table sugar.

Are you getting the picture? Chemically speaking; sugar is sugar.


Dude, no. All sugar is 'natural' in that it all started life in a plant - even white sugar - it comes from sugar cane and looks like this:


Photo Credit

Looks pretty effing natural to me.

Coconuts, maple tree, or sugar cane - your liver can't tell where the hell it came from.


Alright, cool it, we're getting there.

Let's start with minerals- there's a train of thought that natural sweeteners or unrefined sugars are better for you because they have more minerals and antioxidants in them. And technically that's true.

But, it's still a dumb argument.

Let's use calcium as an example. Per 100g, white sugar has 1mg of calcium, honey has 6mg, and maple syrup has 102mg.


The amount of extra sweetener you'd need to have any benefit would be entirely negated by ALL THE SUGAR. And if you still wanna play that game - molasses has 205g of calcium per 100g - wonder why Team Clean haven't started drizzling that all over their protein pancakes?

(Side note, broccoli has 118mg calcium per 100g - you can eat as much of that as you want)

Glycaemic Index

Glycaemic Index (GI) is basically a measure of how quickly glucose is absorbed into the blood stream - foods with a lower GI score helps keep blood sugar levels stable and stops them spiking too high.

Team Clean notes that sugar alternatives have a lower GI than white sugar - which technically is true, although fairly marginal. But again it shows complete lack of awareness of how nutrition works IRL.

Let's say you add a teaspoon's worth of sweetener to your porridge - the volume is so small, the marginal differences in glycaemic index are moot (lol moot is a great word).

A way better measure is Glycaemic Load (GL). It takes into account how quickly glucose is absorbed into the blood (GI) together with how much of that food you're eating. It gives the whole story of how a food will affect blood sugar.

Maple syrup has a GL of around 7 - table sugar has a GL of 6. So by using GL, white sugar may even be better than maple syrup (<10 is considered low). But now you know that's a stupid argument because it's ALL THE SAME SHIT.

What I want you to get here is not that white sugar is good - you still gotta keep that shit in check - but it's no worse than any other type of sugar.

For more evidence based nutrition and wellness w/o the BS check out my podcast and newsletter.