Natural VS Synthetic Sugars: How Do We Digest Them?

Ice cream, cookies, and cakes are all sweet treats we associate with sugar. But did you know that sugar is also in many of the fruits, veggies, nuts, and even dairy you eat? Any of the naturally-occurring sugars out there help give our bodies energy, and synthetic sugars help give foods a sweet taste without the insane calories table sugar can add. 

Each sugar is digested uniquely. That’s why, today, we’re talking about some of the more popular natural and synthetic sugars and how our bodies digest them. Grab a stevia- and erythritol-sweetenedMiiRO Vegan Peanut Butter Cup(or two), and read on to learn about how those sugars are processed.

What Is the Difference Between Natural and Artificial Sweeteners?

Sugar is a naturally occurring compound found in plants, fruits, vegetables, and animal products. These sugars — what’s in fruit juice, coconut sugar, maple syrup, agave nectar, and other naturally sweet foods — are generally easier to digest. 

These sugars are referred to as natural sugars and are different from artificial sugars in a number of ways. Synthetic or complex sugars are made by those peopleguys in laboratory jackets and are often formed by combining natural sugars. Because they are not in their natural form or they are more complex, they can be more difficult to digest.

A few examples of branded synthetic sweeteners include Splenda, Sweet’n Low, Nutrasweet, Neotame, and Saccharine. All of these ingredients can be found in sugar-free chewing gum, soft drinks, candies, and even cereals.

Can Your Body Tell the Difference Between Natural and Artificial Sugars?

What’s important is that depending on which type of sugar you consume; each is digested differently and can directly impact our health. Sugars in their simplest form don’t need to be broken down before your body can use them. They’re absorbed directly into your bloodstream, primarily through your small intestine. However, complex sugars must be broken back down into their simple form before they can be absorbed.

Synthetic or Complex Sugar Types

How Are Natural Sugars Digested?

Sugars can be found in many of the foods we eat. When we think of natural sugars, we’re thinking of the sugars found in foods before they’ve even been processed. Of course, some of these sugars can be pulled out of fruits or veggies to make the sugars we use to sweeten foods or drinks. 

While all of these sugars are natural, they are each digested differently. Here are 4 different types of natural sugars and how they are digested in our bodies.

Sucrose

Although sucrose can be found naturally in fruits, veggies, and nuts, it’s better known as table sugar: the type we would use in our tea and coffee and often add to most desserts. Sucrose is made from glucose and fructose. It is first extracted from the sugar cane or sugar beet.

Hang on – table sugar comes from a plant? So it must be somewhat healthy to eat right?

Not necessarily. Without delving too deeply into the mind-boggling science behind sugars, sucrose is a complex sugar. It’s made up of two parts so it’s hard to digest. 

In fact, the two parts glucose and fructose don’t work well together at all. Glucose increases the amount of fructose that is absorbed into the body when we eat. So, the excess of fructose ends up piling up an excess of fat compared to when the two sugars are eaten separately.

This is why consuming too much sugar causes health problems like high blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain and obesity, type 2 diabetes, tooth decay, 

Glucose

Glucose is the body's preferred source of carbohydrate sugar. If you are interested in sports, you may be familiar with the term. It’s often the glycogen stores that need to be replenished after strenuous exercises like running. Glucose is the type of fuel your body is asking for to restore these glycogen levels. It does this by raising blood sugar levels quicker than other sugars which stimulate the release of insulin.

Consuming glucose-rich carbohydrates (such as bread and potatoes) in moderation is beneficial because it allows your body to control your blood sugar levels.

Fructose

Fructose = Fruit Sugar.

It is found naturally in most fruits, vegetables, and honey. It can also be extracted from these natural sources to make added sugars or create sucrose or high-fructose corn syrup. Out of the three sugars, fructose tastes the sweetest but with the least impact on your blood sugar.

Like glucose, fructose is absorbed directly into your bloodstream. It’s not as wild as glucose, raising your blood sugar levels at a more gradual pace and does not appear to immediately impact insulin levels. This makes fructose foods safe to consume in moderation. For example, snacking on a banana.

Be careful not to overdo it though. Just because fructose naturally occurs in fruits doesn’t mean you can go and eat ten bananas with no negative consequences. (We know some of you out there would try.) Your liver has to convert fructose into glucose before your body can use it for energy, so eating too much around your other meals canmay raise the risk of various health conditions. Like all sugary foods, moderation is key!

Lactose

Yes- dairy has its own type of sugar! Milk sugar, also known as lactose, is found in most animal milk and dairy products. It’s another complex sugar that is naturally formed but made from glucose and galactose. Because it is a natural complex sugar, it is easier for us to digest than sucrose and can be found in processed foods as well as in pills and medications.

Some people's bodies are unable to break down lactose into its component sugars resulting in lactose intolerance. Something that currently affects around 30 to 50 million Americans. It is nothing to worry about, but the great thing about our vegan products is that they may beare perfect for someone that struggles with this kind of intolerance.

Natural Sweeteners

While natural sweeteners aren’t sugars per se, they do provide a naturally sweet flavor and are typically derived from plants. Two of our favorite natural sweeteners are stevia and erythritol. Together, they make a sweet alternative to sugar, like in our White Chocolate Bar with Crispy Almond Pieces.

You’ve probably heard of stevia before. This popular sugar substitute gets its sweetness from extracting steviol glycosides from the stevia plant leaves. Stevia has been used for hundreds of years to sweeten foods and beverages, and it’s 100 to 300 times sweeter than sugar. Stevia is not digested in the body in the same way as sugar, so it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels. 

Erythritol is a naturally-occurring sugar alcohol found in grapes, watermelon, pears, peaches, and mushrooms. It can also be processed out of these foods to create a sweetener powder. Erythritol is absorbed quickly in the small intestines, leaving no time for it to metabolize. Similar to stevia, that means it doesn’t raise your blood glucose like sugar does.

How Are Synthetic Sugars Digested?

You won’t be able to find synthetic sugars out in nature. Some may use a natural product as their base, but they’re far from their original chemical makeup once they’ve been manipulated in the lab. Here are 3 synthetic sugars and how they are digested. 

Sucralose

Discovered in a lab, sucralose is made by replacing three hydroxyl groups in table sugar with three chlorine atoms. This synthetic sugar is600 times as sweet as sucrose, so a little goes a long way. 

By chemically altering table sugar, it’s changed into a synthetic sugar with zero calories. Most of the sucralose you ingest is not digested. Instead, your body processes it through the kidneys and expels it through urine.

Saccharin

Unlike sucralose, saccharin is not created from a natural product. Instead, it’s made by oxidizing certain chemicals. This powder is 300 to 400 times sweeter than sugar. Like sucralose, it is not digestible, meaning it has zero calories. 

Aspartame

The simplest way to explain aspartame is it is made of2 amino acids — aspartic acid and phenylalanine. This synthetic sugar is 200 times sweeter than natural sugar and can be found in many zero-sugar products on the market today, including diet soda.

Unlike the two other synthetic sugars we’ve discussed, aspartame is digested in the body. When digested, the amino acids are separated and used for metabolism and building protein. Because aspartame is digestible, it is considered a low-calorie sweetener. 

The Bottom Line on Sugar Intake

Your sweet tooth can be curbed by many different types of sugars, and your choices can affect your overall wellness. There are natural sugars, natural sweeteners, and synthetic sugars to choose from. Your body digests each of these sugars uniquely. The next time you grab a sweet snack, check out the label to see what types of sugars you are consuming, so you can figure out how your body will react. 

At MiiRO, we want to bring you the most satisfying chocolate available, while never sacrificing on taste or health. That is why we have created craveable vegan, no sugar added chocolates you’ll have to taste to believe. 

Sources:

Fructose: A Dietary Sugar in Crosstalk with Microbiota Contributing to the Development and Progression of Non-Alcoholic Liver Disease | Immunology | Frontiers

Lactose Intolerance | Boston Children's Hospital

Sugar: A Cautionary Tale | The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

Sucralose | PubMed

Everything You Need to Know About Aspartame | Food Insight

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