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Does the Body Process Fruit Sugar and Refined Sugar in the Same Way?

author image Jill Corleone, RDN, LD
Jill Corleone is a registered dietitian and health coach who has been writing and lecturing on diet and health for more than 15 years. Her work has been featured on the Huffington Post, Diabetes Self-Management and in the book "Noninvasive Mechanical Ventilation," edited by John R. Bach, M.D. Corleone holds a Bachelor of Science in nutrition.
Does the Body Process Fruit Sugar and Refined Sugar in the Same Way?
Apples for sale at a farmers market. Photo Credit: rgallianos/iStock/Getty Images

Sugar is bad for you, no doubt about it. High intakes of sugar increase the risk of obesity and early death, according to a report from the Harvard Medical School. While your body processes the sugar in fruit the same way it processes the sugar from your sugar bowl, don't go throwing your fruit out. Fruit offers a lot of health benefits that table sugar can't match.

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About Sugar

Sugar is a carbohydrate. Sucrose, which you may know better as table sugar, is made from sugar beets or sugar cane and is a disaccharide, meaning it consists of two simple sugar molecules, or monosaccharides. Glucose and fructose are the two simple sugars in sucrose. Fruit sugar is made up of sucrose, the same disaccharide found in your sugar bowl, and fructose, which is also a simple sugar.

Sugar Digestion

Whether it's the sugar you put in your coffee or the sugar in your banana, your body processes it same way. Sugar digestion begins in the mouth, but most of the work occurs in the small intestine, where enzymes break the disaccharides in the sucrose into monosaccharides. These monosaccharides are then carried to the liver where they are converted to glucose, which your body either stores as glycogen in your liver or uses as energy.

Comparing the Nutrition

While the body treats the sugar in fruit the same way it treats table sugar, there are significant differences in the nutritional composition of both foods as a whole. Table sugar is a source of empty calories, while fruit provides a variety of health-promoting nutrients including fiber, vitamins A and C and potassium. One teaspoon of sugar contains 16 calories, 4 grams of carbohydrates and no fiber, vitamins or minerals. By comparison, one medium orange contains 80 calories, 19 grams of carbs, 3 grams of fiber, 250 milligrams of potassium and 130 percent of the daily value for vitamin C.

Eat Fruit for Health

Eating fruits as part of a healthy diet lowers your risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer. Additionally, getting more fiber in your diet from foods such as fruits lowers your risk of diabetes and may help you better manage your weight. To up the nutritional quality of your diet and improve overall health, aim for 1 1/2 cups to 2 cups of fruit a day, where 1 cup is equal to a small apple, large banana or 1 cup of cut fruit.

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