What Are Refined Sugars?

When following a balanced diet, it's important to pay attention to sugar, a major staple that provides carbohydrate nutrients. Some sugar — especially refined sugar — can cause rapid and significant increases in blood sugar that could raise your risk of diabetes and other chronic health issues.

Refined sugars are those that have been processed, as opposed to the natural sugars found in fruit and milk. (Image: istetiana/Moment/GettyImages)

A large number of the foods found in the Standard American Diet (SAD) contain refined sugar, which could pose as much risk as consuming ones high in dietary fats and cholesterol. While some people opt to follow a no sugar diet for various reasons, most would benefit from simply cutting back on intake of refined carbohydrates. It's easy to keep track of your sugar consumption. You just need to look up the item on MyPlate and use its tracking system.


Refined sugars are those that have been processed, as opposed to the natural sugars found in fruit and milk. The most common refined sugar is table sugar, or sucrose, but there are also powdered sugars, syrups and natural processed sugars.

Natural vs. Refined Sugar

Before looking at refined sugars, you'll need to know about sugar as well. The most common type of sugar people think of when they hear the word is sucrose, or cane sugar. But there are also naturally occurring types that come from fruits and milk. Sugars like cane sugar are refined sugars, whereas milk and fruit contain the natural, unprocessed variety.

Refined carbohydrates, like those found in whole grains or potatoes, are better for you than white bread or pastries. Similarly, natural sugar is better for you than the refined type. Sugar manufacturing involves the processing of sugar, in which impurities and colored components are removed. The original product, called raw sugar, is softened and dissolved. Then the components are separated to yield the white, pure sugar recognized as table sugar, or pure sucrose.

Although refined sugars are thought by many to be the basic table sugar you might add to coffee or tea, there are actually a number of different types.

What is Granulated Sugar?

Granulated sugar is the most common type of refined sugar. It's consumed by many on a regular basis and found in most homes. It's sucrose, otherwise known as the white sugar often found on tabletops.

Granulated sugar can be used to sweeten beverages, such as coffee and tea. This type of refined sugar is commonly used in baking and cooking and regularly sold in bags at the grocery store.

Natural Processed Sugars

Added sugar is the term they use to describe sugar sources that alter a food or beverage. Then there are some types of sugars that aren't considered added sugars, because they come from natural sources like fruits and vegetables. However, since they had to be refined to be used in these products, you still want to take note.

When trying to determine the healthiest sugar, you would think it'd be one with "natural" in the title. But that's not the case. These types of natural sugars still go through a refining process that makes them similar to refined sugars.

These refined natural sugars are particularly common in fruit juices and smoothies. In these products, all of the sugars come from the fruit. However, the manufactures heavily alter the fruit to create the product. In order to avoid this type of sugar, compare the amount of sugar between juices and watch out for anything above a certain range. For instance, pure orange juice should have no more than 34 grams of sugar.

If there's a lot more sugar in the product than found in similar products, it's likely because the sugar from the fruits in the high-sugar product had to be altered.

A Pantry Staple: Powdered Sugar

Powdered sugar, or confectioner's sugar, is the other type of refined sugar commonly found in homes. It has a much smoother texture than other types of refined sugars. It's commonly used in icings and similar dessert toppings, because it mixes easily and creates a smooth product. It's also the type you might see coating a doughnut, because its fine texture helps it stick to food surfaces.

No Sugar Diets: Too Extreme?

Refined sugars are classified by some as potential poisons to the body, but there is little evidence that supports that claim. Refined sugar provides empty calories, meaning it's lacking in other nutrients and minerals. Your body burns through them quickly, needing additional fuel sources. That's why some people consider no sugar diets. But sugar, refined or natural, isn't the problem.

Sugar only causes health issues when it's consumed in excess, according to a study from the November 2016 issue of European Journal of Nutrition. In addition, it can drain the body of nutrients because of its demanding digestion requirements. According to MyPlate.gov, you should limit your intake of refined carbohydrates. Instead, opt for foods that provide carbohydrates in a more complex form. These include whole-grain foods, such as whole-wheat bread and pastries.

Load Comments

Copyright © 2019 Leaf Group Ltd. Use of this web site constitutes acceptance of the LIVESTRONG.COM Terms of Use , Privacy Policy and Copyright Policy . The material appearing on LIVESTRONG.COM is for educational use only. It should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. LIVESTRONG is a registered trademark of the LIVESTRONG Foundation. The LIVESTRONG Foundation and LIVESTRONG.COM do not endorse any of the products or services that are advertised on the web site. Moreover, we do not select every advertiser or advertisement that appears on the web site-many of the advertisements are served by third party advertising companies.