real vs. fake sugar

Sugar. It keeps me in business. Not only is it a sneaky little thing woven into many foods that claim to be “healthy,” but it also can play gnarly games with our sense of hunger and satiety cues. 

Now that we have access to ALL the alternatives [many of which have negligible impact on our blood sugar], it’s become harder than ever to decipher which ones are worth your time. 

Let’s get down to brass tacks and let me spoon feed you what to reach for, what to ditch and what to remain cautious around. 

Buckle up!

real sugar:

  • naturally-occuring in the environment
  • minimal processing required
  • digested by our bodies as sugar [carbohydrate]
  • may be used as energy
  • contain nutrients + antioxidants above and beyond the sugar itself

the downside:

  • sugar increases insulin levels and if abused causes insulin resistance + storage of excess glucose as fat


  • consume real, natural, minimally processed sugars in cautious moderation [for those special #treatyoself moments] – remember you are the pilot and you choose it on your terms

my favorites:

  • raw [local] honey
  • grade B maple syrup
  • coconut sugar // syrup
  • date sugar // syrup

sugar substitutes [natural + artificial]:

  • some are naturally-occurring
  • most are not digested by our bodies as sugar and do not create an insulin response [hence the reason they’ve become the darling in the food industry]

the downsides:

  • not digested by our bodies as sugar [do not provide energy]
  • sometimes none // only part of the fake sugar molecule can be digested [can be seen as “foreign” to our body]
  • usually sweeter than sugar [sometimes much sweeter] so there is the potential for long-term sugar substitute consumption to change our taste buds  → naturally-sweet foods don’t taste sweet anymore

what is the difference between natural and artificial sugar substitutes?

  • natural sugar substitutes are:  
    • found in the environment [foods // plants], but require processing to be fit for human consumption
    • not all natural sugar substitutes are created equal → only the cleanest ones on the market should be consumed 


    • limit consumption of natural sugar substitutes, opting for their real counterparts instead when you truly want something sweet

my favorites [though impossible to find COMPLETELY unprocessed]:

    • monk fruit sweetener [Lakanto brand]
    • stevia [Organic Traditions or SweetLeaf brands]
    • xylitol

natural sugar substitutes to look out for and avoid:

    • high fructose corn syrup
    • agave nectar

artificial sugar substitutes:

    • produced in a lab to create a molecule not normally found in nature
    • the body does not know how to digest most artificial sugar substitutes [they are generally excreted whole]


    • avoid at all costs
    • with the list of sugars + natural sugar substitutes listed above you have so many options at your fingertips
    • too much literature indicates the long-term negative implications of artificial sugar substitutes on our bodies – when celebrating sweet – level up!

artificial sugar substitutes to look out for and avoid:

    • aspartame
    • saccharin [aka Sweet N’ Low]
    • acesulfame potassium [or acesulfame-K]
    • tagatose
    • sucralose [aka Splenda]
    • neotame [aka Newtame]

If you made it this far, I hope you feel utterly validated by the fact that the differentiation between sugars is not a piece of cake. In fact, it took 2 dietitians just to polish this breakdown with simplicity and accuracy. 

So here is your main takeaway [plain and simple]: when you want something sweet, pause, allow yourself time to decide whether it’s because you are stressed, actually hungry or tired. 

Then if you truly want to savor something sweet, go for the real sugar from real sources [i.e the honey] and savor SLOWLY in intentional moderation. 

Walk away feeling satisfied having celebrated something you truly loved. 

To the intentional celebration of sweetness,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.