We all know that sugar is getting a bad rap these days, bad, bad, bad, and it is well deserved. Even 60 Minutes has gotten in on the shaming with the story about cocaine-addicted lab rats choosing sugar over coke – every single time! I’m not claiming sugar is a health food, but is ALL sugar bad?

I was at the grocery store and a woman, randomly, asked me about sugar in yogurt – what are the odds she’d walk up to a perfect stranger who happened to be a nutritionist? She was looking for a yogurt that was free of sugar (not sugar-free with artificial sweeteners – that’s a whole other topic – talk about BAD). I told her to get the plain unsweetened one. Confused, she handed it to me and showed me the sugar grams on the back. I realized she didn’t understand the difference between sugar, bad white sugar which she was trying to avoid, and natural sugar that comes in lots of foods, like yogurt. Did you know lactose is milk sugar? So, all milk products, like yogurt, have sugar – milk-sugar, lactose.

My clients are often quoting me about the sugar grams in their foods because they are so concerned about sugar. I’m not saying you should eat foods with tons of sugar, white or not, but know what you are looking at and make the choice you are trying to make. Not all sugars are created equal. Plain white table sugar is not healthy for us, period. A little here and there is ok, but it shouldn’t be a daily staple in our diets. It wreaks havoc on our endocrine and nervous systems, not to mention digestive systems too. Really no system in the body escapes white sugar’s reach. But, don’t stop eating fruit because you’re scared of white sugar. Don’t throw the baby out the bath water because the body functions on glucose (body-sugar). It is the fuel that gets things going.

Fruit has sugar, yes, fructose (fruit-sugar) and fruit is good for us. It comes along with beneficial phyto-nutrients, vitamins, minerals and with the all-important fiber. So, fruit isn’t white sugar and fruit isn’t bad. Overeating fruit isn’t great, but eating fruit daily is a good thing. It’s like there’s an orange in one hand and a pile of processed, refined fructose in the other. It doesn’t take a genius to realize they aren’t the same thing.

Let’s take that same orange. Oranges are good right? Eating an orange is great for your body because of all those nutrients and fiber that only an orange can provide. An orange isn’t processed sugar. And, refined, processed sugar is the problem. That’s what the studies are being done on. It’s not the oranges in your life taking you down it’s the donuts, candy and soda.

Here’s a bonus tip on whole vs processed sugars: we’ll stick with the orange for consistency. Juice has been getting compared to soda lately, as having the same amount of sugar (we know the sugars are different now, but both can have a negative effect on our waistlines) When you make orange juice you remove the fiber, and now it is mostly sugar and some nutrients. Much better than white sugar (and better than soda for sure) but higher on the glycemic scale than the orange was. (The glycemic scale measures how fast a food spikes your blood sugar, which stresses your hormonal system.) And the reason is the removal of the fiber. Fiber is a long molecule that keeps the sugar receptor sites in your digestive system busy, so it takes that one receptor site a long time to gobble up that long molecule. Sugar, the more processed the shorter the molecule and the shorter the digestion time, so sugar molecules get gobbled up quickly and repeatedly, thus the quick spike in blood sugar. Juice is gobbled up more quickly than the actual fruit.

So, don’t focus too much on how many grams of sugar your bread has but more on the ingredients. Does it have plain ole nasty sugar? No, is the best answer. Does it have highly processed grains, like white flour – same deal, where it has had the nutrients and fiber removed, so is easily gobbled up with little to show for it. Sugar with no benefits is just bad sugar. Food with sugar with lots of healthy nutrition is good. So, go for it and eat good food. You’re body knows exactly what to do with it!