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The Diva’s Guide to Natural Sugars

the divas guide to natural sugars

In the current culture of banishing every inkling of sugar from the diet I know it must be odd to see a guide to the sugars I so highly recommend.  Just the other day, I was reading yet another blog post from a woman who recently quit sugar altogether and, of course, reported having multiple benefits such as much more energy and clearer thinking.  All the while I am thinking “Ah yes, this is the honeymoon phase!”

The fact is, when you quit all sugars your body will adapt, for awhile, by allowing your body to burn fat as fuel and requiring extra adrenaline and cortisol to break down tissue, muscle and bone to create glucose.  (The problem with burning fat exclusively as fuel is the presence of PUFA in those fat cells that are released, often very quickly and oxidized in the body at an alarming rate!!)  Fat should be burned in a mixture with glucose.  Don’t believe me??  Read The Case for Sugar and find out how the body responds to having no glucose.

Isn’t adrenaline great??  Ah that rush as your “juices get flowing” when you are under the gun.

Nobody ever remembers the ensuing crash, do they??

Of course, after shaking my head throughout this post I realized this woman probably didn’t cut sugar altogether.  She probably cut refined white sugar out of her diet.  That’s fine since it really has no nutrient value anyway.  Wait, who am I kidding?  No, she probably hopped right on the bandwagon and cut ALL sugars out of her diet.

The pendulum always swings back the other way, beauties.  No matter how good you feel when you stop sugar altogether, remember, the body prefers glucose for its fuel.  Its fuel feeds metabolism.

No fuel = Low Metabolism  

I don’t make the rules.  You need glucose to help the liver convert T4 to drive T3 and without it…..well….  the train don’t move.

So, while I am not suggesting you pour a sugar bowl down your throat I do recommend eating a little “sugar” in the form of sucrose or glucose with a little fructose along with protein and healthy saturated fat like coconut oil, butter, ghee or other traditional fat to help the body to form the basis of a healthy metabolism.

Bottom line, when you eliminate a whole macronutrient group, the body lacks an important building block.  If you didn’t have the proper building block for a foundation of a house, what would happen?

Below are my top picks for natural sugars that, while some would call simple, I prefer to call them digestible and readily usable for a healthy metabolism.

Fruit is essentially a dissacharide, or sucrose, with both glucose and fructose and loaded with vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, trace elements and antioxidants essential for good health.  Because the effect of glucose is stabilized when there is fructose is present this makes fruit optimal for maintaining blood sugar handling health the fact that fruit has soluble fiber contributes to that stability.  Also, most fruits contain some potassium which mimics insulin function in the body.  Because diabetes is not so much the presence of insulin but the fact that the insulin no longer helps the glucose into the cells (leaving the body high in blood sugar), potassium can aid getting the blood sugar into the cells, making fruit the optimal carbohydrate for diabetics and those with metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance as fruit helps increase insulin sensitivity.

Rules for eating fruit::

Ripe fruits only!  We’ve all heard fruit can feed candida, present in the lower intestinal tract.  Ripe fruit sugars are assimilated int the upper intestine and, under normal circumstances should not only NOT feed candida but would not cause digestive issues.  Many fruits on the market, however, are picked unripe and chemically ripened which does not provide the same effect as tree ripe fruit.  Improperly developed sugars, such as those in unripe fruit will not assimilate properly in the upper intestinal tract and travel to the lower intestine where it will ferment, cause bloating and gas, stomach pain and feed bacteria.

Apples and pears contain pectin, a special fiber, akin to cellulose that can be very hard to digest.  It does not help that most apples bought in the market today were never ripened making the pectin even tougher to break down. Cooking breaks down this pectin so stewing, sauteeing well, baking and roasting will make these fruits digestible.

Medjool Dates are the fruit of the date palm tree and are an integral part of Middle Eastern diets, the primary religion, and even for healing.  They “date” back (pun intended) to the Stone Age in the Arabian peninsula and have even been used as currency in the past.  High in potassium, copper, magnesium, and manganese along with B vitamins, the sugars are mostly free fructose and glucose (both monosaccharides) and small amounts of sucrose, these are great when used as a paste or soaked and blended into a syrup and used as an alternative to other sugars or eaten by themselves for a quick source of energy that will help quickly restore low blood sugar without spiking insulin levels. Manganese is critical in the production and utilization of many enzymes responsible for protecting against oxidative damage. Dates are a wonderful addition to your diet when trying to detox from PUFA overload as they can stem the tide of the damage done when these PUFAs are released from the cells.

Palm sugar (or coconut nectar or coconut sugar) is popular these days as a “low-glycemic” sweetener and is popular in Thai, Indian and Indonesian cooking.  Contrary to popular belief, it’s as refined as cane sugar with it’s boiling and crystallization process so it behaves the same way in the body as cane sugar but it contains small amounts of vitamins B1, B2, B3,B6 as well as minerals zinc, and potassium.  It’s delicious and if you like it, use it.  I use it in baked goods and it gives everything a nice caramel flavor.

Cane sugar is boiled and crystallized from sugarcane syrup and is pure sucrose. While I prefer ripe fruit, raw honey, and maple syrup as my primary natural sugars (along with root vegetables), cane sugar has a place, especially for those with a slow metabolism or hypothyroidism. A little goes a long way to help hypoglycemic moments, sluggish thyroid and even hormonal imbalances.

Molasses or treacle is a dark, sweet, and rich by-product of refining sugarcane into granulated sugar. It is sucrose which breaks down to glucose and a little fructose in the body.  It has a strong flavor and is rich in minerals such as calcium, copper, manganese, potassium and magnesium.  I add it to my gingerbread and to my morning coffee when I want a kick.   It is great for balancing iron stores whether deficient or overloaded.

Raw Honey contains up to 180 protective and healing substances that provide anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory goodness and help improve immunity.  It contains equal parts of glucose and fructose which makes it the optimal sweetener in small amounts.  Be careful to buy raw and unprocessed and, preferably local honey (as local honey can help with seasonal allergies).

Finally maple syrup is one of my favorite sweeteners of all time.  It is mostly sucrose with some free glucose (does not need breaking down in the body) and small amounts of free fructose.  It, oddly enough, has a stronger mineral content than even raw honey being high in zinc and manganese and can be used over pancakes, in custards, and even in ice cream and baked goods.

Be aware I don’t recommend the use of artificial sweeteners as they cannot be digested and is sent directly to the liver for detoxification (putting a toxic load on the liver).  By virtue of eating these sweeteners and no other sugar means that glycogen stores are not being filled or able to be utilized for the detoxification process relying on these stores by the liver.  This means the toxins cannot leave the body because the liver cannot break them down.  This creates toxic load on the body.

Stevia is one of the most overused natural sweeteners out there.  It is touted as healthy yet, because it tastes sweet but provides no energy to the body and it can still spike insulin because the brain, as we have discussed, thinks there is sweet therefore will release insulin waiting for the glucose and none comes.  Stevia also has estrogenic qualities and can contribute, when overused, to estrogen dominance.

A word about fructose:: Fructose is demonized by nutrition circles these days.  Most “health experts” confuse High Fructose Corn Syrup, derived from corn, with the fructose in natural sweeteners.  HFCS has been found to have up to five times more sugar per oz. than plain table sugar and it is in many, if not most, packaged foods.  Fructose in natural sugars and ripe fruit is always in the presence of glucose and usually in the form of sucrose which makes it assimilated into the body easily (unless there are severe digestion issues whereby there are fructose malabsorption issues but even then ripe fruit can usually be tolerated.).   You would have to eat a case of peaches or eat a bag of sugar to ingest nearly the fructose that is present in HFCS laden products.  If you stick to a real food diet with digestible sugars in balance of healthy fats and proteins, trust me, you don’t have to worry about your fructose consumption.

A special note about orange juice::  I love freshly pressed and strained orange juice for fueling the metabolism, decreasing the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, increasing immunity and insulin sensitivity, and reducing certain inflammation markers (C-reactive protein to name one) and bacterial endotoxin.  Many who have severely impaired digestion and cannot tolerate whole fruits because of a fructose malabsorption issue or starches from root veggies do very well with orange juice.  (Straining orange juice eliminates the pulp that can cause bloating for many people.)

Orange juice with a pinch of sea salt is a pro-metabolic, anti-stress hormone treat.  Adding in 1 tablespoon hydrolyzed collagen gives a protein boost and blended with a tablespoon of coconut oil adds in protective healthy fats.  Aside from the Vitamin C content, there is a multitude of phytonutrients and flavonoids which are powerfully anti-inflammatory and have antioxidant properties important to health.

What are your favorite natural sugars?  Have you jumped on the no-sugar bandwagon?  Are you ready to jump off and enjoy an important building block to vibrant health?



  • Kay

    Thank you for this! I have been the ‘no sugar, no fruit, no root vegetables’ route and it’s great to understand the biochemistry behind it all and be able to eat more normally. I look forward to your posts.

    • thedetoxdiva

      I always tell my clients who quit ALL sugar that this is really disordered eating. I understand not wanting to consume table sugar, and if this is a problem, not stopping, then fruit is a better route but to quit all sugars is begging for thyroid issues if not a complete breakdown of metabolism. I’m glad you appreciated the post!

      • Emily

        well,we dont call these natural things as “sugar” though they are sweet.We only call table sugar as sugar.Whats your verdict on consuming that ?

        • thedetoxdiva

          I wrote that in my article under cane sugar. Cane sugar is ok in small amounts (and no, fruit is a sugar, maple syrup is a sugar, honey is a sugar….. these are sugars so it is a misnomer when you talk about quitting sugar)and even in slightly larger amounts when there are thyroid issues present. We use it in our house and my clients use it in their houses. It’s not that you are ingesting a large amount but cane sugar is sucrose and sucrose is a disaccharide that breaks down easily for use as fuel including for making T4 into T3! I don’t use white sugar preferring sucanat or evaporated cane syrup which retains most mineral content but I don’t vilify cane sugar!

  • Allie

    I know you mentioned dates but what about figs? Ever since I dropped processed sugars (after my breast cancer scare) I have incorporated organic unsulfured dried figs and organic brazil nuts as a dessert. I did not know the chemistry you presented about how the body needs and breaks down natural sugar but I’ve always felt very low in energy if I didn’t have something sweet and some healthy fats. (had no idea there was a reason why the body craved these) Thanks for shedding light!!

    • thedetoxdiva

      Figs are not as interchangeable as dates therefore I don’t use them as a sweetener, however, I do LOVE them. I prefer them fresh to dried but I do use them soaked and dried in a few muffin recipes. If you like them, eat them but please watch the Brazil nuts. Switch to macadamia for less PUFA consumption.

      • Emily

        how about rasins?
        What is really trending and my current knowledge is that before putting anything into your mouth you should think of the GI of it and how much it would play with insulin spike.Date is 103 !like watermelon .How do u see this,should we take care of the GI at all in your idea?(forexample for me when i eat that much sweet stuff gives me hypoglycemic reactions.

        • thedetoxdiva

          I don’t subscribe to the GI theory because it is an incomplete picture of nutrition. Insulin isn’t the only consideration in blood sugar handling (for example, PUFA load plays a HUGE part in blood sugar and cellular metabolism). A date with healthy saturated fat and protein has a lower GL. Raisins the same! It’s not actually a trending theory, more like a trendy theory.

  • shannon

    Great post. Go Vermont maple syrup! 🙂 (I am a little biased since I am from there)

  • Sandy

    Where are you getting your information about this subject from? Is there any research backing your claims about ingesting sugar?

    • thedetoxdiva

      Yes, tons of research. If you are looking at finding the research yourself, look at taking a biochemistry course first and then read the research of Ray Peat (I would suggest Danny Roddy as he is a little more understandable) and Lita Lee who are my favorites for the details they go into. There are countless studies that never make it into mainstream nutrition. I am careful not to suggest that people eat sugar out of balance with other macronutrients and not to the extreme.

  • nell

    Jacqueline,I wanna know what can i do to get my period?today is 31th of my cycle while i ALWAYS expect it on 28th..this is the first time with such delay.Any idea/

    • thedetoxdiva

      There are variances in every woman’s cycle. I would watch and wait to see when you get it and then I would start to keep a journal. If you start to veer off your course too much it’s time to address any imbalances you might have.

      • nell

        yes i do have a journal almost every month and im seeing late period quite often among women around me ..they get an injection and get the period.so,all u suggest is waiting?Is there anything helps ?i would appreciate if you give some info about hormone imbalance and healing pcos.

        • thedetoxdiva

          If you want an injection, by all means but it is a hormonal shot and I don’t recommend that in menstruating women because it does not help whatever is causing the disruption. There is a lot of info on hormonal imbalance and while I will be talking about the causes of PCOS in future posts, those causes are really individual. If you are a PCOS sufferer I might suggest a consultation to devise an individual plan in treating it with nutrition and well chosen supplements.

          • nell

            yeah i also dont like to go for synthetic hormones and injections.so any herb you suggest can help ?i did a research n found out “licorice “can help ..whats your idea?

          • thedetoxdiva

            Licorice is not for everyone. In fact, it can be too strong for some if there is any adrenal issue. Licorice will not bring on a late period unless A LOT of it is ingested.

          • nell

            so ,does any herb al tea can help to get period?

          • thedetoxdiva

            I suggest, if you are this worried about missing your period, you get a doctor’s advice. I can’t advise anything to bring on a missed period. I’m sorry.

  • Emily

    When making icecream or cakes ..do you use 1.wheat white flour +2.taple usual sugar?

    Are they really okay ???

    • thedetoxdiva

      I don’t use flour to make ice cream and WHEN I make cakes, which is a rarity, I do use white wheat flour or spelt OR sprouted flour and I use SUGAR in both. Ice cream is a constant in my house while cake is not often eaten as we don’t do a lot of grain but yeah, it’s what you tell your body with these treats. If you worry that they won’t be ok, guess what??? even if they are, they won’t be.

  • mary

    Very helpful article and kind of what I always sensed….I notice I always fancy something bitter first thing in the morning and tend to go for lemon juice or grapefruit. I never use table sugar in tea, coffee or cereall but it’s in plenty stuff I eat. I assume it’s in chocolate (or some chocolate) and I do add a little bit of cane sugar to tomato sauce when I make it. Thanks for this article. as ever Detox Diva.

  • Mina

    Does using fennel seed oil for 7 days,using like a massage oil (starting in 9th day of cycle) does anything to hormones ?

    • thedetoxdiva

      I don’t have any real experience using fennel oil. I would say, provided it isn’t in a polyunsaturated fat base, it should be fine.

      • Allie

        What about coconut oil? I stopped using all my lotions since the breast cancer scare and switched to coconut oil for my body. I do the oil cleansing for the face you suggested last year (half olive oil, half castor oil).

        • thedetoxdiva

          Coconut oil is the most amazing moisturizer (for the body as it can be comedogenic for the face) and the only one (other than a little shea butter or cocoa butter) I use. So you are good. Olive oil is monounsaturated so you aren’t contributing to your PUFA load! You are doing great!

      • Mina

        Oh Thank you.Since here fennel aerosol or tea is perscribed for PCOS,means balancing hormones and promoting Overies…even for extra facial hair its being used .do you think it can help ?

        • thedetoxdiva

          I don’t believe fennel would be a prescription for the management of PCOS. I would definitely not go overboard and say it balances hormones if nutrition isn’t in place.

  • Nadina

    I was wondering whilst reading your article on sugar, what your thoughts are about using Stevia instead of Cane Sugar

    • thedetoxdiva

      HATE stevia. It is one of the causes reactive hypoglycemia when used more than very sporadically and can be estrogenic! I have a post about Stevia in case you are curious!